Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) elements supporting Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) – formed of armed Shiite groups in Iraq – have begun withdrawing its ranks and files from Iraq and heading to Syria, according to reports received from inside Iran.
This decision by Iran is fundamentally related to the U.S. upgrading its military presence in Iran and dispatching Special Forces and more experts to train Iraqi forces, especially special police units in charge of holding grounds liberated from ISIS control. Moreover, this decision comes following the downgrading role of the Shiite PMF forces and preventing their participation in operations aimed at liberating the city of Ramadi late last year, parallel to the opposition seen from the Sunnis and Kurds with their presence in the planned liberation of Mosul in northern Iraq. More than ever before Iran is leaning towards dispatching IRGC fighters to Syria.
Amongst the main reasons the IRGC decided to retreat their troops from Iraq to Syria is the continuing retreats seen by Bashar Assad’s troops in various fronts, and to provide backup attacks for these forces while enjoying Russian air cover.
These measures resemble Iran’s concerns over Russia’s increasing military influence in Syria. The Iranians consider themselves the main party with the most influence in Syria, whereas due to Moscow’s military intervention starting September 30th Iran has been losing ground to Russia.
Tehran fears its role decreasing in any possible political solution to end the war in Syria. Therefore, it is seeking to strengthen its military presence, fearing the price of any political agreement will be its expulsion from Syria. Iranian officials are very suspicious of a possible US-Russia intervention, or an agreement amongst parties inside the Syrian regime with Moscow aimed at reaching a political solution at Tehran’s expense.
Iran’s goal in strengthening its military presence in Syria is to influence the path of any political solution and back a faction from inside the Assad regime that supports Iran’s influence more than that of Russia.
The transfer of more military personnel to Syria may hinder a political agreement or make difficult any possibility of the Syrian opposition accepting an agreement due to the increasing military presence of Iran and its allies, especially Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, on Syria soil.
Iran decided to call back a number of its commanders from Syria following heavy blows in Syria, such as the death of brigadier general Hossein Hamedani and over 200 other IRGC commanders, along with Qassem Suleimani being seriously injured. This decreasing role has allowed Russia to adopt an increasing part with the intention of downgrading the role of Shiite militias in Syria and placing the main burden of the war on Bashar Assad’s army. This will lead to the complete elimination of Iran’s role in Syria. Realizing Moscow’s objective, Tehran decided to step up dispatching its own forces and Quds Force-associated Shiite militias to Syria.
The transfer of a number of IRGC members from Iraq to Syria followed the decreasing role of Shiite militias in the war against ISIS in Iraq due to Washington’s opposition in this regard. On the other hand, being informed of the Shiite militias’ financial problems in Iraq, Iran has conditioned any paychecks for these units to their groups being dispatched to Syria. Therefore, we are witnessing a large number of Iraqi Shiite militias heading to Syria.