Iranian spin likely to fuel Iraqi, Syrian protests
The Iranian regime’s military interventions in the region are now an unambiguous reality that nobody inside or outside of Iran can honestly deny. Despite this, however, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei keeps repeating his tired old claim that Iran did not intervene in Syria and Iraq militarily, with Tehran only having an advisory role in these countries.
Khamenei’s contradictory remarks on this issue in recent years have repeatedly exposed his dishonesty. On one occasion, he was quoted as saying: “If the young men didn’t go to fight in Syria and if they didn’t fight there, the enemy would attack Iran.” On another occasion, he said: “The path to martyrdom, which was closed when the Iran-Iraq war ended, is opened again in Syria and the young men have demanded with urgency to be allowed to go to the front lines in Syria.”
Mahmoud Jaharbaghi, a commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and one of the most senior Iranian military commanders in Syria, recently said in a speech: “The IRGC’s intervention in Syria began even before the emergence of (Daesh) in that country.” He added that Khamenei had ordered Qassem Soleimani, the late Quds Force chief, to go to Syria to “protect Bashar Assad from falling.” These remarks further prove the dishonesty of Khamenei’s claims.
Not only does this acknowledgement prove beyond doubt that Iran has, since the very beginning, played a pivotal role in the Syrian war, but it also refutes the Iranian regime’s assertion since 2011 — designed to mislead regional and global public opinion — that the Damascus regime asked Iran to intervene in Syria.
Among the other evidence proving the Iranian regime’s involvement and military intervention in the Syrian civil war beyond any doubt is Tehran’s own admission that thousands of its military personnel, including officers and soldiers, have died in Syria, as well as thousands more wounded. Many sources suggest that the number of Iranian soldiers killed and wounded in Syria is far higher than the figure announced by Iran’s official sources.
Over the past decade, Iran has spent vast sums of money recruiting terrorist groups to fight alongside its forces in Syria, including the Fatemiyoun Brigade, which is made up of Afghan refugees living in Iran, and the Zainabiyoun Brigade, most of whose members are from Pakistan. Iran’s forces have also established several military bases across the region, shifting weapons and military hardware to Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Given these facts, it is reasonable to ask some questions, such as: Is it possible that the Iranians killed and wounded in Syria were only “advisers?” What explains Iran's recruitment of thousands of foreign mercenaries to fight in Syria? Is the unambiguous evidence not sufficient to force the Iranian regime to abandon its feeble claims that no longer convince even its own supporters?
The Iranian regime believes that its influence in Iraq and Syria is important for implementing its national security strategies and expansionist projects across the region. Thus, Tehran’s leadership believes the withdrawal of US forces would enable it to press ahead with its ambition to dominate the region. This is the reason for Khamenei’s periodic insistence that Iran will expel US forces from the Middle East. Despite Iran’s brazen interference in the region’s countries, Khamenei continues to justify the presence of Iranian forces in Iraq and Syria while at the same time calling on the US to pull its troops out of these two countries as quickly as possible, arguing that America cannot be trusted.
These calls by Khamenei might be considered acceptable or ignorable if Khamenei acknowledged and ended Iran’s military interventions in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and halted his expansionist ambitions. However, Khamenei, who has proclaimed himself to be the guardian and military ruler of the region’s countries, seems to have failed to come to grips with the rapidly growing popular discontent and negative sentiments concerning Iran’s recklessness, especially among Iraqis, which transcend sectarian lines and are directed at Tehran’s unwelcome interference.
Khamenei seems to have failed to come to grips with the rapidly growing popular discontent and negative sentiments concerning Iran’s recklessness.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
In 2018, protesters set fire to the Iranian consulate in Basra and, in 2019, the Iranian consulates in both Najaf and Karbala were set ablaze. Last year, Iraqis strongly protested the Iranian supreme leader’s comments when he promised to expel US forces from Iraq and Syria. The Iraqi people are fully aware that Khamenei’s ceaseless incitements to drive US troops out of Iraq and the wider region reflects his desire to remove the only real military impediment to Tehran exclusively controlling Iraq and Syria.
This growing popular grassroots mobilization against Iran in Iraq and Syria is a threat to Khamenei’s expansionist plans and explains his dishonest claims justifying Iran’s presence beyond its borders. The people living in these two countries are well acquainted with Khamenei’s dishonesty and this Iranian spin will no doubt fail and further expose the lies of the Iranian regime.
- Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is President of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami