Since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, Iran has sought to significantly increase its influence in Iraq. In order to achieve this goal, Iran aims to keep Iraq weak and dependent on Tehran for its security. Iran controls a vast network of Shia militant groups in Iraq, and uses these proxies to “stoke sectarian tensions and to foment political violence… thereby ensuring for itself a role as mediator in Iraq.” This “two—faced” strategy has enabled Iran to establish itself as the “key power broker” in Iraq.
During the Iraq War, Iran supported, trained, and funded Shia militias and Shia insurgents in order to “work toward a humiliating defeat for the United States.” Iran supplied these groups with weapons such as IEDs, which were “the top killer of U.S. troops” in Iraq. In order to move these weapons into Iraq, Iran controlled a number of arms smuggling rings. By 2006 the Quds Force had developed “a widespread network for transferring and distributing arms from Iran into Iraq through the Ilam region in western Iran.” As a result of the sectarian violence Iran helped unleash, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed in the years following the invasion.
Iran has also used the war against the Sunni jihadist group ISIS as a pretext to embed IRGC officials in Iraq and increase support for Shia militant groups loyal to Ayatollah Khamenei. Quds Force commanders such as General Qassem Soleimani are organizing Iraqi forces and “have become the de facto leaders of the Iraqi Shiite militias that are the backbone of the fight” against ISIS. Reports on the increasing number of IRGC soldiers killed fighting in Iraq further demonstrate Iran’s intense interventions in the area. Iran has supplied Iraq with $10 billion worth of weaponry, likely including T-72S tanks, Safir jeeps, and Sayyad sniper rifles.
As a result of these interventions against ISIS, Iranian influence in Iraq has reached an “unprecedented level.” According to Ali Younusi, an adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei, “Iran is an empire once again at last, and its capital is Baghdad.” A member of the Iranian parliament made a similar claim, declaring that Baghdad has “fallen into Iran’s hands and belongs to the Iranian Islamic Revolution.” Soleimani also echoed these sentiments, boasting, “We are witnessing the export of the Islamic Revolution throughout the region. From Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and North Africa.”