Iraq’s Fifth Column: Iran’s Proxy Network

By Nicholas A. Heras | Fellow - Center for a New American Security | Oct 17, 2017
Iraq’s Fifth Column: Iran’s Proxy Network

Summary 

As Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) campaigns against ISIS, the Islamic Republic is strengthening its Shiite militia proxy networks in Iraq. The I.R.G.C.’s expeditionary wing, the Quds Force, is using political connections in the Iraqi government and historical links to veteran Shiite groups to influence Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (P.M.U.s). P.M.U. groups that express support for Khomeini’s wilayat-al faqih and hold the closest ties to the Quds Force are led by commanders that worked with the Quds Force as fighters in the Islamic Resistance of the 1980s and 1990s. However, Iran’s extensive Shiite militia network does not extend to all P.M.U.s. Differences amongst P.M.U. groups will shape the future of Iraqi Shiite socio-political development as P.M.U. groups transition from active militia activity to participation in mass politics.

Key Points

  • 40 of an estimated 67 P.M.U. militias are believed to share close links with Iran’s Quds Force, the largest being Badr Organization, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, and Kata’ib Hezbollah. 
  • The I.R.G.C.’s approach in Iraq is a concerted long-term strategy, which dates back to the early 1980s when it shaped armed internal resistance to Saddam Hussein’s regime.
  • P.M.Us groups with the closest ties to the I.R.G.C. are led by commanders that were active in the Quds Force-supported opposition to U.S. military presence in the 2000s.
  • Many pro Quds Forces-P.M.U.s share close ties with the Shiite political base.
  • The role of P.M.U.s in mass politics in Iraq remains unclear and complex, given that many—but not all—P.M.U. groups support the institution of wilayat al-faqih, or Rule of the Jurisprudent, in Iraq and hold links to armed movements that support Iraqi political actors.

Read the full Policy Paper here.

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