If only both sides could lose - nicht wahr?
Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps just buried Colonel Kamal Shirkhani.
He did not die in a battle inside Persia. He was killed nearly a hundred miles away from the Iranian border in a mortar attack by the militants of the Islamic State “while carrying out his mission to defend” a revered Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra, according to a report on Basij Press, a news site affiliated with the Basij militia which is overseen by the Revolutionary Guards.
At least two other members of the Guards have also been killed in Iraq since mid-June, a clear sign that Shi'ite power Iran has ramped up its military presence in Iraq to counter the threat of Sunni fighters from the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that seized much of northern Iraq since June.
Senior Iranian officials have denied that any Revolutionary Guard fighters or commanders are inside Iraq. But there’s no doubt that prominent politicians and clerics in Iran have been rattled by the rapid gains of the Islamic State and the threat it poses, not only to the Iraqi government but to Iran itself.
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani pledged his government’s support to help counter the threat posed by the Islamic State if the Iraqi government requested it.
“When the Islamic State reached Shi'ite areas in Iraq, the Revolutionary Guards had forces there who fought them,” said Mohsen Sazegara, a founding member of the Revolutionary Guards who is now a U.S.-based dissident. “A number of them were killed.”
Qassem Soleimani, the head of the external operations branch of the Guards known as the Quds Force, recently traveled to Baghdad, according to reports from a number of Iranian news sites. An Iraqi parliamentarian posted a picture on the Internet of himself with Soleimani in Iraq in mid-June.
Regional experts believe the Revolutionary Guards have increased the supply of weapons and funds to proxy militant groups inside Iraq in recent weeks.
A high-level Iraqi security official who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media said Iran had now mobilized up to 20,000 Iraqi militiamen from groups it funded and trained.
The fighters are spread south from Samarra to Baghdad and down into the farming communities south of the capital, the official added.
Several thousand Iraqi fighters were also brought back from Syria where they were helping defend the government of president Bashar al-Assad, the same official said. Some have now joined units of security forces from the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence. Some of the groups were deployed since the spring with the blessing of Maliki, and put under a military chain of command, as the Iraqi security forces first struggled fighting in western Iraq and in Baghdad's rural hinterlands.
In addition, there are dozens of members of Lebanon's Shi'ite militia Hezbollah in Iraq, sources familiar with the group say. Hezbollah militants have been fighting in Syria to support Assad for more than two years. Their presence in Iraq now is a sign of the broader regional dimensions of the conflict which has pitted Shi'ite Muslims against Sunnis.
Unlike the fighters in Syria, the Hezbollah militants in Iraq are battle-hardened veterans leading and supervising operations, sources familiar with the group say. One Hezbollah commander, a veteran of the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel named Ibrahim al Haj, was killed near Mosul recently.
The presence of the Iranian Guards in Iraq also comes after months of committed military support from the Quds Force in Syria. Senior Iranian officials had denied Guard personnel were there until websites linked to the Guards and Basij began publishing pictures and posting video of the funerals of Iranian fighters killed in Syria.
"The Iranians have seemingly calculated that they cannot preserve their interests in Syria without Bashar Assad, They have not made those same calculations about Maliki,” Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote in an email.
“But the question is whether there exists a unifying alternative to Maliki, an Iraqi politician who’s both a steadfast Iranian ally and still palatable to Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds.”
Pic - "Iran’s offer to assist Iraq’s fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS) was not conditional on Maliki making any immediate reforms or changes to his government."