Iran’s Quds Force commander in Iraq for unannounced visit

The Cradle, April 1, 2023 — Iran continues to hold significant influence in Iraq, something that is criticized by some Iraqis and welcomed by others.

Esmail Qaani, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Forces, arrived in Baghdad on Thursday evening, 30 March, for an unannounced visit,  Shafaq News reported.

Qaani, who replaced legendary Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani following the latter’s assassination by US forces in 2020, is expected to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia al-Sudani and other Iraqi officials.

The meetings are expected to discuss various political and security issues, including the recent rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh and Iraq’s role in facilitating the improved relationship between the two rival Islamic nations.

Qaani has visited Baghdad several times since the parliamentary elections brought Prime Minister Sudani to power in October 2022, including several unannounced visits.

Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat notes that Qaani’s visit comes two days after the IRGC claimed responsibility for ballistic missile attacks in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Iranian state media said the IRGC had launched the attack against Israeli “strategic centers” in Erbil and was in retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed two IRGC members earlier this month.

The Saudi paper also speculated that Qaani had arrived in Baghdad to influence Iraq’s competing political blocs and to encourage Iraq’s major Shiite parties to form a united bloc that would exclude Sunni and Kurdish parties.

Iran has significantly influenced Iraqi political affairs since the 2003 US invasion and fall of Saddam Hussein’s government, leveraging its ties to Iraqi Shia political parties, militias, and religious leaders, to increase its influence.

This has led some Iraqis to criticize Iran’s influence and blame it for the corruption plaguing the Iraqi government since 2003.

Other Iraqis strongly support the role played by Iran, which provided significant financial and military support to Iraqi Shia forces, such as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), during the fight against ISIS between 2014 and 2017.

Iran was quick to provide military support to the Iraqi government when ISIS initially conquered large swaths of the country and at a time when US officials refused to provide military help, even as ISIS threatened to take Baghdad.

Iran’s economic ties with Iraq have also helped deepen its influence. Iran is a significant trading partner with Iraq and has invested heavily in Iraq’s energy sector, including the construction of gas pipelines and the provision of electricity.

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