Iran’s Shadowy Power Grabs in Iraq

Iran’s high-profile efforts to bully everyone in the Middle East have been getting a ton of attention this week. However, a group of Texas National Guardsmen recently revealed much more subtle, and potentially more important, ways that Iran could fill the power vacuum left by the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.

It’s not news that Iran’s Quds Force (which translates to Jerusalem Force) waged a proxy war against U.S. troops in Iraq. However,’s newest member, Mike Hoffman, just filed a piece about how officers of the Texas-based 36th infantry division, one of the last American units to rotate through Iraq, told lawmakers about opportunities for Tehran to wage a soft takeover of weak spots in the Iraqi military and economy:

With the Iranian-backed Shia Dawa party controlling much of Baghdad and southern Iraq, Spurgin’s unit of 700 Guardsmen witnessed the small pieces of economic and political influence affecting the Iraqi government and army.

For example, Army Brig. Gen. William Smith, 36th Infantry’s deputy commander, said he worried the Iraqi army’s shaky logistics system would open up doors for Iranian agents to gain favor inside army operations.

Iraq’s supply chain still works on a paper system that depends on approvals from officers as senior as generals for supplies as basic as tires. That’s in addition to the reality that Iraq has no system in place to deliver supplies to units in the field from the country’s only depots, located at Taji.

So if an Iraqi army unit needs tires for Humvees in Basrah, for example, that unit must travel all the way to Taji to pick them up. Of course, it’s rare for a unit commander to approve such a trip because it shows he’s failed as a leader if his unit needs new tires, Smith explained.

“It’s part of the military culture we’re trying to change over there,” he said.

If soldiers can’t depend on their army to supply them, they must look elsewhere. In many cases, they turn to supplies smuggled over the Iran border.

Those smuggling efforts included the ingredients to build improvised explosive devices. Iran’s special operations unit, known as the Quds Force, trained many of the Iraq militia members who execute the smuggling operations inside Iraq, Spurgin said.

The Texas soldiers didn’t focus solely on advanced military operations out of Iran. In a briefing to a Texas congressional delegation on Capitol Hill, the Guardsmen explained how something as simple as groceries allows Iran’s government to gain power in Iraq.

Iran is flooding Iraq’s markets with goods at much cheaper prices than other imports, leading other countries’ suppliers, in places such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, to not bother to sell in Iraq. Those supplies allow Iran to control southern Iraq’s markets and thus its stomachs.

Perhaps most revealing about the threat of Iranian influence inside Iraq is the fact that the Iraqi army is functionally a heavy police force; capable only of fighting terrorists and providing other forms of “internal security” not defending the country’s borders from other militaries, according to Spurgin:

When asked by Conaway if the Iraqis could protect their borders from an external threat such as Iran, he bluntly said no. Spurgin told the congressman the Iraqis could not defend against an invading force.

“Operationally, the Iraqi Army has the ability to provide internal security of their own country, but they’re not ready to defend their country from an external threat,” Spurgin said.

This news combined with other reports describing Iraq on the brink of civil war, paint a picture of a country ripe for a subtle proxy takeover push by an Iran that’s looking for such an opportunity to expand its power and influence. You can bet that the United States will fight this. But, as our military attention shifts toward Asia and we drop our ability to fight two wars at once, it will be interesting to see how we do this.





  • Mark Pyruz

    I guess you folks aren’t aware of Iraq’s army commander and military/security delegation recently traveling to Iran to meet with Iran’s counterparts, to discuss military, intelligence and security ties, in detail. How to produce a nefarious spin on that taking place?

    Or, as for your Humvee/tire anecdote, I suppose you’re unaware of how corruption figures into certain aspects of the Iraqi military. If you need a Hollywood reference, check out the the film “Kelly’s Heroes” and the character “Crap Game” for a romanticized rendering of such goings on. The film and its romanticized corruption has quite a following here in the U.S.

    • SJE

      The US had discussions with the Iranians when they invaded Iran and Afghanistan. Iraq SHOULD have discussions with the Iranians, unless they are actively at war with Iran. Pretending that they don’t exist (e.g. US-Cuba) doesnt work when your share a long border. Yes, it could be nefarious, but what are we going to do about it? Its the Iraqi’s country now.

      • Guest

        invaded Iraq*

    • Oddball

      awesome movie – it has me in it.

  • dddd

    Great post.

  • SJE

    None of this is surprising. At the same time, Iran has often over-reached in Iraq, assuming that it could control events through proxies. Its influence has limits. Many Iraqis, including Iraqi Shia, have no interest in becoming a client state of Iran, especially after they just got rid of the USA. Over-reach by Iran also risks action by the other powers in the region, especially Saudis.

    In the end, I’d rather the Iraqis and local power brokers deal with this issue instead of having US, Brits, Aussies etc dying. We gain a lot more by leaving and being seen as the good guys who did a good job and tried to leave the place better than we started. Its messier, but gets the same result for a lot less cost in blood and treasure.

  • dddd

    What I like about that excerpt is the detail. The guy explains exactly HOW Iranian agents might augment their influence by offering logistical skills that are in high demand. I believe that think tankers and policymakers speak in broad terms that fail to support the given argument. For example, people say Iran getting a nuke would be bad because it would launch a regional nuclear arms race. But they don’t say how these other countries would obtain nuclear weapons. This is nice and specific.

    • itfunk

      Through their illicit nuclear programs that we conveniently ignore. Saudi Arabia for instance has for instance got an option on the Pakistan nuclear bomb in return for funding a lot of it.

      But that isn’t even the big problem – the problem is that Iran with the bomb would be safe. It would put an end to our dreams of overthrowing the Iranian revolution and cap 50 years of humiliating failures trying.

    • Matt

      The threat of Iran w/nukes is mutually assured destruction does work on religious zealots willing to die to kill the “Great Satan” and Israel. Not to mention Iran and Iraq have gone to war in the past, and Saddam used WMDs (chemical). Iran may see it as precidence and “return the favor”, so to speak.

  • Lance

    Sad day. It seems like when we left South Vietnam in 73 our allies strength declined. I see the same in Iraq with out US forces there Iran will either take over by Iraqi allies in a Islamic revolution OR invaded and take Iraq by force. Bad decision by Washington.

    • SJE

      But in 2011 we are friends with Vietnam, and have been working with the Vietnamese to contain China for many years now. The Vietnamese people and govt also have positive views of the USA

      • crackedlenses

        And in 2011 thousands of people have died trying to leave and as for minorities, don’t ask; things could be worse, but things could have been better if we had held our end of the bargain….

        • SJE

          I agree that the US failed to protect some of its S. Vietnamese allies, and did not keep its promises. But that is a separate issue: the US geopolitical position in Vietnam is not too bad.

          • crackedlenses

            The US failed to support the South Vietnamese after we left, which is why it fell to the North Vietnamese, who were being supported by the Soviets. If we hadn’t been too busy with Watergate, we could have saved South Vietnam, and hundreds of thousands lives would have been saved. That was my point…..

          • SJE

            I see your point. Thanks for clarifying.

      • Lance

        Sorry SJE Vietnam is one of the worst human rights abusers and they oppress there people horribly the US has some relations but I would call it good. Like Iraq no good came form this.

        • SJE

          Sorry Lance, but there are PLENTY of nasty regimes in the world. Don’t forget that it was Vietnam that invaded Cambodia to get rid of the Khmer Rouge and then the US complained and supported the KR’s position on international bodies. We didnt exactly cover ourselves in glory, did we?

          Nevertheless, the point is about Iraq. Staying in Iraq has very clear costs. Leaving has risks. Looking at Vietnam, I’d take those risks and leave Iraq. As for the humanitarian issues, those can be dealt with through other means, such as asylum for those who helped US forces. Or, are you proposing we invade every country with a human rights problem?

    • Longshot

      .·…OR invaded and take Iraq by force”… you mean, the same thing the US did about ten years ago?

  • blight

    On the plus side, if Iraqi Army units cannot get to Baghdad, then they cannot depose Diem.

    Typical of militaries that are built around keeping leaders in power rather than national security. And once we are out, the Iraqi military of today doesn’t hold a candle to the war machine Saddam had, export models and steel AT penetrators or not.

    Iran practices economic dumping on Iraq: just as we dump our lower-priced goods (which are made in China, of course) on third world countries to destroy their local industries. Now we will see what the consequences are regarding the precedent we set in other countries.

  • IronV

    To quote Colin Powell on Iraq… “If you break it, you own it.” More prophetic words were never uttered…

    Look. We did our bit in Iraq. We should never have gone in there, but we did. And we broke a lot of china in the process. We’ve done our best to make it right, losing 4500 precious American lives and god knows how many Iraqis in the process.

    We have long passed the point of diminishing returns. But whatever the consequences, it’s now up to them. We’ve done our bit and there is no possible justification for the loss of one more American life in that tribal hell hole.

    • Longshot


  • Stephen Russell

    Iranians can enter as agents, etc into Iraq Army & set up networks alone for supply & terrorisim, then more strain in the Mid East.

    • SJE

      Iranians already do that.

  • blackphoenixillustrations

    The lead dude in the picture is missing the pistol grip and trigger mech for his AK. It’s the artist in me, can’t help but notice.

    • free falling

      Sherlock, me thinks you overlooked quite another “detail” uhh… you may even have run into an elephant in your doorframe: Iran’s standard assault rifle isn’t even the Soviet-designed AK-47 to begin with – never was! It’s the German-designed G3 ( = same ancestor, same shape, but straight magazines, not banana-shaped ones like the AK-47s’). Iran even license-builds and exports the G3… As a side note: This also means that the standard calibre of all Iranian infantrymen and -women is 7,62 mm , NOT 5,56 mm.

      Envy them.

      • crackedlenses

        5.56 mm. and 7.62 mm. both kill people rather handily. It’s all a matter of personal preference…..

      • blight

        Correct regarding the G3, but the Iranians do produce AKM clones, a Norinco clone and a 5.56 bullpup.

        It’s always possible that a variety of these arms are produced for export, or go to the Revolutionary guards or Basij. The AKM has become a symbol of revolutions and unrest the world over anyways (and is part of the symbology of Hezbollah and Mozambique’s flag, for example). Even OBL’s famous pictures show an AKSU-74 propped up nearby, or OBL firing an AKM.

  • J Weich

    “Iran’s high-profile efforts to bully everyone in the Middle East…”

    There is only one country that bullies everyone in the Middle East and that’s the US, which has consistently done so for 60 years. The one notable exception is Israel, which, on the contrary, is a country that utterly controls US foreign policy in the Middle East.

    • IronV

      Utter, fatuous, simplistic BS…

    • crackedlenses

      Yeah, and Bush caused 9/11 and Cheney is really a space alien and the Tea Party really did spit on Pelosi; I’ve got some swampland you’ll really want to buy……

    • blight

      We don’t bully Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan or Qatar. They’re our…friends.

      Yemen, Oman, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon,watch out!

      • Longshot

        Yeah, all our “friends” has oil! what good and convenient coincidence! …despite Saudi Arabia it´s a great place for terorists.

        The others, Watch out!

    • Danilo

      I´m sorry but all you said… it´s true. Just the crude truth.

  • America has tried to exercise influence over the colour of governments everywhere; from South America to South East Asia, whether by open war, the supply of arms to insurgents or by exploding cigars. America has done a whole lot worse than smuggle tyres.

    It might not be a bad thing if Iran maintains a puppet regime next door. It’s in their long-term interests to have stability in Iraq. And if Iraq does fracture or descend into civil war, can we lay the blame entirely with Iran? There has been ethnic and religious tension built into that country from it’s foundation.

    • IronV

      No country on the face of this earth, in the history of humanity, has done more to better the condition of humankind than the United States of America. One of the great ironies in the recent Wiki leaks episode is that the leaked documents confirmed we were doing exactly what we said we were doing. The same could hardly be said for the the other countries whose secrets were revealed.

  • IronV

    If you’re looking for “lies” you need to examine your own beliefs…

  • Doubtom

    “IRAN’S SHADOWY POWER GRAB IN IRAQ” Would that be about the same as our power grab in the same area and everywhere else? Just wondering.

    • Danilo

      Doubtom, can you put that question in other words? i´m not sure of it´s meaning. I have limitations in english and i´m interested in the real meaning of your words

    • IronV

      What power grab is that? We LEFT Iraq. We’re on our way out of Afghanistan. Why didn’t we just stay and drain them of their resources if your thesis is correct?

  • Muhammad

    such a crap!

    Of course Iran exports food and other materials to Iraq. They have been neighbors for centuries. Iran have imported dates from Iraq and exported lemons to them.

    and regarding the long period of boycott against Iraq and invading all of its factories and industries; you think what material can be produced there?

    with all Saudi terrorist in that country, blowing up homes and workshops?

    Quds Force don’t need to smuggle anything. Iran have many free trade zones in the border with Iraqi Kurdistan and Basrah provinces.

    Of course Quds Force has a long time presence in Iraq!

    They were fighting Saddam before you do, dear Gen, when you idiot criminals sold chemical materials to Saddam.

    They are Iraqi Shiite and Sunni soldiers and refugees organized and supported by Sepah to fight against the criminal dictator, Saddam; when Saddam used chemical weapons against Iraqi and Iranian people in a same way, and you supported him in UN.

    And of course Iran has influence in Iraq. many of Iranian high-rank clerics have studied in Iraq, fled from Saddam to Iran, and still have followers there. previous Head of the Judiciary of Iran, was an Iraqi refugee.

    Ayatollah Sistani is an Iraqi high-rank Shiite leader who has millions of followers in Iran. tomb of 4 of highly regarded religious leaders of Muslims and Imams of Shiite, which are sons of Muslims prophet are in Iraq and millions of Iranians visit them each year.

    so many ties exist between to countries, for centuries.

    Is trading of yogurt from Iran to Iraq really a treat to US benefits? fuck those benefits! what do you do here with your benefits?

    was supporting Saddam to produce chemical weapons and using it against us, one of your benefits too?

    • blight

      I don’t think the United States cares about the lemon/orange trade. Whatever it takes to bring the Iraqi nation revenue is good stuff, though if Iraq starts exporting oil to Iranian refineries people might sit up and go “Oh no!”

      Looking up the Quds Force, it seems they helped out the Kurds to fight Saddam. During the Reagan years, this was A Bad Thing. But after 1991, this was A Good Thing. They allegedly also helped out the Northern Alliance, which would also be A Good Thing. However, this was the ’90s, during which Iran wasn’t Such A Bad Guy. I don’t think the United States minded Rasafjani or Khatami being in charge; but much of our bad blood began when Iran decided to change directions and supported Ahmadinejad.

      Sistani was sidelined in ’04-’05 by Sadr when Sadr’s men killed al-Khoei.

      • Muhammad

        Thanks God Quds Force and Sepah policies have not changed like US policies.

        Anyway, Ahmadinejad was not in charge when Iran suddenly became A Very Bad Guy. It was Khatami, and hey, the nuclear program info had still not been leaked, and Iran had co-operated with NATO in Iraq and Afghanistan. And mind you, The Supreme Leader, Khamenei signs international policies, and his policies has not changed as much as American’s.

        Sistani wasn’t sidelined in Iraq, If you know how Ayatollah’s do their management. He has millions of followers in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, …. During the US occupation of Iraq, Young Sheites supported Muqtada and some extremists in Iran appreciated his movement. But, that doesn’t mean Sadr sidelined Sistani.
        and Mr. Khoei died while Saddam was in charge.

        Some fools here say Iran is behind 70% of terrorism activities in Iraq, while US is in charge there. How could that be possible and most of the victims are Sheits, and hundreds of Iranians have been killed in Karballa and Najaf?

  • Robert Fritts

    Maybe we should consider that this was going to happen from day 1. There is a substantial reason the area is called the Persian Gulf. Thousands of years of being part of the Persian empire. A 100 years of Iraqi or Saudi history will never change that. The people accept that. All of our speculating on what will happen if Iran become dominant in the area is Bull Pucky. Iran will be the dominant force in the gulf area eventually. We can’t stop it nor should we try. Do the Iranians need a nuke program for weapons? No. There are over 40 assembled Nuke weapons missing from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kahzakstan. In 1997 rumors of 4 Chinese nukes(4.5Mtons) misplaced and never recovered. I have no doubt our friendly allies in Pakistan will gladly sell a 100Kton class weapon at a severe discount. Every Barrel of American oil produced moves us closer to the day when this is not even a problem.

  • robert fritts

    The Neocons have been out of power for quite a while. This is hysteria is lead by peace loving anti-war liberals. Ike was right back then and right today. The first strike to end threats to the USA would be a kill only missions on the corporate headquarters of Lock-Mart, BAE, Boeing and Raytheon.

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