Hayder al-Khoei, associate fellow at the London think tank Chatham House, spoke to IranWire from Baghdad.
What has been Iran’s level of threat-perception following these attacks?
It’s extremely high. They are worried that this is going to give ISIS a further stepping stone, and act as a launching pad for the rest of Iraq. [Iran] has mobilized in very high numbers Shia militia forces loyal to Iran, especially the AAH militia, the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. Just a few hours ago some friends confirmed that the [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps] General Qassem Suleimani is in Baghdad. He arrived yesterday. I think his presence in the capital is a sign of just how seriously the Iranians are taking the ISIS threat.
He was reported to have gone to the checkpoints on the outskirts of Baghdad to make sure that the Iraqi armed forces and the Shia militias that are acting as the paramilitary support units are ready, and capable of defending the city. It was also reported that he went to Balad, north of Baghdad, and Samarra, where ISIS was thwarted by the armed forces. Certainly the Iranians are taking this extremely seriously. The mobilization of the Shia militias, and Qassem Suleimani’s presence, is a very good indication of how seriously they’re taking this.
They were crucial in preventing Damascus from falling, and other Syrian cities. Baghdad is a lot closer to home for the Iranians, and they’ve told their Shia partners, ‘Iraq is our backyard.’ Certainly they’ll take much more care of Baghdad, even more so than Damascus.
What do we know about ISIS’s intentions towards the Shia shrines in Iraq?
ISIS have, and want to, attack Shia symbolic shrines, because that way they can provoke not just the Shia militias into retaliating, but ordinary Shia civilians. If that happens, it could trigger another sectarian and civil war. Even in Mosul, on their official Twitter pages, they were telling the people of Mosul they are safe under their hand, except for the Shia, so they are extremely opposed ideologically to the Shia, and see them as apostates, not Muslims.
The ISIS official spokesman, [Abu Muhammad] al-Adnani said to Maliki and the Iraqi government, we’re not going to settle our score with you in Samarra and Baghdad, we’re going to settle our score with you in [the Shia holy cities of] Najaf and Karbala.
Now of course it’s going to be much harder [for ISIS] to penetrate the cities of Najaf and Karbala, because the people there, unlike in Mosul, [support] the armed forces, and on top of that you have Shia militias who will prevent anything similar to what we saw in Falluja, Mosul and Tikrit.
In Baghdad and the south it’s a different story. There’s a lot of media hype about ISIS capabilities and ISIS gains, and I don’t want to downplay the ISIS threat, but the people in the capital and the South are going to be much more willing to defend their cities, and the armed forces along with the militias are going to be much more prepared to die. In Mosul the armed forces had no will to fight at all.
The Shia militias — Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Hezbollah, the Badr Brigades — these are all ideologically-driven militias, so they will fight to the death, unlike the army units in the north of the country. [Continue reading…]