If we take a look at Iraq’s provinces bordering Iran we come to realize that Diyala is the only province where Sunnis are in majority, of course not considering the Kurds in the north. Therefore, Iran considers its borders with this province as unsafe and senior regime officials and Quds Force commanders have for years been dreaming of implementing plans of religious cleansing in Diyala. From 2003 to this day this province has always been the target of ethnic cleansing.
Currently the security situation in Diyala Province is described as very dangerous and concerning. Iran has been staging new crimes aimed at ridding the entire area of its Sunni population.
Baquba, the provincial capital of Diyala, has become a powder keg that may explode at any moment, especially considering the influence enjoyed by armed Shiite militia groups and the presence of hundreds of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards members.
Conditions will most likely intensify, according to assessments of political and tribal figures in this province, citing the fact that Shiite militias are seeking such crises in Diyala, and foreign parties – specifically Iran – will profit from such conditions in this Iraq province in which Sunnis are at a majority. The residents of various parts of this province are mostly Shiite, providing grounds for the Shiite “Popular Mobilization Forces”. As a result, Diyala is considered one of the most important areas of Iraq, militarily, strategically and politically.
Iran has a plan to transform Diyala into a strong and important line of defense for the sake of its national security interests. This is not only related to terrorism and ISIS. In fact, such an issue is fundamental to Iran’s very existence since Tehran doesn’t want any area adjacent to its borders to have a majority Arab Sunni population.
Iran is fueling sectarian vengeance attacks in Diyala, knowing it will profit considerably if it escalates the status quo to conditions worse than any sectarian war: a civil war between Diyala’s Sunni and Shiite locals. If such a sectarian conflict erupts in Diyala and destroys all coexistence between the fighting sides, Iran can direct the armed Shiite groups to launch widespread cleansing operations and expel the Arab Sunnis from this province to facilitate the transformation of this area into a Shiite region. Iranians believe a religious cleansing campaign in Diyala Province – with a 240 kilometers in ground borders with Iran – will increase its overall border security with Iraq.
Iran resorts to a pretext claiming ISIS will once again return to Diyala if Shiite militia groups are forced out of the province and control is placed into the hands of the Iraqi army and police. Shiite militia groups are using this pretext to remain in Diyala and taking advantage of Iran’s influence as an excuse to carry out sectarian cleansing.
Following the recent crimes committed by Shiite militias in the town of Meqdadiya of Diyala Province, one may imagine Iran’s influence may be degrading in Diyala Province, and even claim Iran has retreated from such intentions. Facts on the ground say the exact opposite as the influence of Iran and the Shiite militias is on the rise, meaning they are simply waiting for specific parameters to launch their sectarian cleansing.
Some may think defeating ISIS in al-Anbar, Kirkuk or Mosul in the far north regions of Iraq and areas in Salahadin Province can challenge Iran’s plans for Diyala Province. Iran’s scheme for Diyala and turning this region into a defensive line will begin after destroying ISIS. In the next phase after ISIS, Iran will issue a license to kill and widespread political and geographical cleansing. Various factions, especially in the Popular Mobilization Forces, believe the situation in Diyala and other areas must be re-organized after defeating ISIS, and that these areas cannot be simply abandoned.
Different armed Shiite militia groups have established large military bases in Diyala and along the Iraq-Iraq border, in which Iranian military personnel are training PMF members on how to protect the joint borders. Furthermore, various Shiite groups have replaced Iraqi army forces in various sites, inside Diyala or Baquba, or the so-called border points.
The influence and hegemony of the Iraqi army and Defense Ministry in Diyala is less significant in comparison to other areas in Iraq, thanks to the efforts of armed Shiite groups in Salahadin neighboring Diyala. The Iran is attempting to have the Shiite militias control military-security initiative, not the Iraqi military armed forces. This is vital for Iran’s plan in turning Diyala into a strategic line of defense protecting its national interests in the future.