Iran has become the main foreign power supporting Iraq in its fight against the Islamic State (IS). Currently, a large number of Iranian advisers are involved in the taking of the Baiji Refinery and surrounding area in Salahaddin province. At the same time, Iranians are heading west for Anbar where the effort to retake Ramadi from the Islamic State is now being led by the Hashd many of which are supported by Iran. That led to another loss for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Wherever there is major action in Iraq the Iranians can be expected to be taking part.
In April 2015, right after the taking of Tikrit, the Islamic State assaulted the Baiji Refinery. IS had attacked there before, but made its biggest advance this time taking over 50% of the facility. Government forces and Hashd al-Shaabi units including members of the Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, the Khorasani Brigade, Kataib Imam Ali, and Jund al-Imam were sent to relieve the besieged unit protecting the refinery. Iranians were in a supporting role operating artillery, rockets, mortars, anti-tank missiles, and flying drones to collect intelligence. Iranians and their allies Lebanese Hezbollah were also not only providing advisers at Baiji, but were also said to be fighting on the frontlines. An officer from the Energy Police told Iraq Oil Report that the Iranians and Lebanese were wearing civilian and Hashd uniforms to blend in and not stand out as foreigners. There was so much press about Tehran’s involvement that its Foreign Ministry issued a statement denying that it had troops in Baiji, but did admit to advisers. Salahaddin has been the main province where Iranians and Lebanese have been present in Iraq. Tehran is justifying its intervention in Iraq in part to protect the shrines there including the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra, Salahaddin. It was reported that up to 1,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and 150 Hezbollah advisers took part in the Tikrit operation in March. Many of those same men are now probably involved in the fighting in Baiji.
The fall of Ramadi has also led Iranians to move into Anbar. The operation there was announced by the Hashd forces. The Badr Organization is pushing towards Ramadi from the northeast and Kataib Hezbollah from the south. These groups are close to Iran, so wherever they go they are accompanied by Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah advisers. That was highlighted by the fact that a commander in the IRGC Jassem Nouri was killed outside Ramadi on May 28. Nouri was a member of the Basij militia who are often called upon for manpower during major commitments by the Revolutionary Guard. This was the eighth IRGC member to be killed in Iraq since the fall of Mosul in June 2014. Two Iranians died in June. Two colonels were killed in July, followed by a general killed by a sniper in Balad, Salahaddin in December, another commander from the Basij in that same province in January 2015, and a second general in February. There is talk that four more Iranian commanders died during the April fighting to take Tikrit. Probably many more rank and file IRGC members have been killed as well. Syria and Iraq are the two most pressing foreign policy issues for Tehran and they have committed a large number of their forces to protect their interests there. As they are often advising from the front, and taking part in the fighting it is only natural for them to take losses such as these.
Coleman, Luke, “US Official: Iran is Fighting Alongside ISF and Shi’ite Militia in Baiji,” Bas News, 5/23/15
Daragahi, Borzou and Solomon, Eika, “Iraq launches operation to retake Ramadi from Isis,” Financial Times, 5/26/15
Duman, Bilgay, “A New Controversial Actor In Post-ISIS Iraq: Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi (The Popular Mobilization Forces ),” Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, May 2015
Iraq Oil Report, “Iraqi forces overpowered at Baiji refinery,” 4/30/15
Al Mada, “Iran denies sending troops to Iraq to restore Baiji,” 5/27/15
- “The popular crowd assisted by Iranian advisers and 4 thousand Sunni fighters in battles north of Tikrit,” 5/26/15
Morris, Loveday, “Pro-Iran militias take upper hand after U.S.-backed forces crumble in Anbar,” Washington Post, 5/30/15
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iranian Military Officer Killed While Advising Shi’ite Militia Near Ramadi,” 6/1/15
Roggio, Bill and Weiss, Caleb, “Iranian military commander killed fighting in Ramadi,” Long War Journal, 5/31/15
Van Heuvelen, Ben, Al-Najaf, Kamaran, Naji, Jamal, “Iraqi forces lose initiative as IS hits Anbar, Baiji,” Iraq Oil Report, 4/16/15