Iranian officials and military commanders warn that Tehran would take direct action if Baghdad and other Iraqi cities hosting holy shrines come under attack from ISIL.
According to Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Brigadier General Mohammad Baqeri, “Baghdad, the holy shrines, and the holy shrines of Shia Imams are among the Islamic Republic’s redlines. Iran will take direct action to kill the terrorists and destroy their headquarters if these places come under threat.”
Speaking in an interview with the CNN in September, President Hassan Rouhani likewise said Iran would resort to any possible means to protect the holy sites, including those in Karbala and Najaf, and the capital city Baghdad.
The official warnings shouldn’t come as surprise. Iran has been helping the Iraqi government and the army for several months now. Iran began assisting Iraq to defend itself long before the United States and its allies decided to form the so-called anti-ISIL coalition. Tehran acted in the nick of time and warned those in the coalition supporting ISIL “to make up for their mistakes.”
And there are several reasons why Tehran says it will not sit back and watch:
1. The US is not serious in its fight against ISIL. They support ISIL in Syria and fight ISIL in Iraq, which is apprehensive. The US-led coalition is not inclusive and air power alone cannot defeat ISIL.
2. ISIL has links with certain intelligence services. It has the backing of Israel – Iran’s number one enemy.
3. Iran is key to regional security. Strange enough, British Prime Minister David Cameron says, “Iran could help secure a more stable, inclusive Iraq, and a more stable, inclusive Syria.”
4. ISIL has committed heinous crimes against Shia, Sunni, Kurdish, Christian and Izadi communities. This goes against Iran’s religious duties and principles. For fighting terrorism, Tehran will not wait for an alliance. It acts according to international law and its own international obligations.
5. The rise of ISIL is attributed to the policies of Western powers. They back the terrorist group in Syria – Iran’s closest ally. That’s why Tehran rejects Washington’s requests to cooperate: “The US asked through its ambassador in Iraq whether we could cooperate against ISIL. I said no, because they have dirty hands,” says Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei.
Ayatollah Khamenei also says “the US portrays this as a sectarian conflict. What is happening is not a war between Shias and Sunnis. It’s a battle between humanity and barbarism.”
All this explains why Commander of IRGC’s Qods Force Brigadier General Qassem Soleimani is in Iraq. He leads the fight against ISIL because the Iraqi people trust him. He provides advisory support, and he is the one that has helped the Iraqi forces to take back several lost territory.
That also explains why many Iraqis welcome the Iranian presence and say their allegiance lies with Iran. In the words of Iraqi MP Mowaffak al-Rubaie, “Who arrived here to save us three days after Mosul fell? Not the Americans. They only sent abysmal air strikes three months later when their citizens were beheaded. The speed of Iranian response to Baghdad and Erbil was the next day.”
It is with this background and understanding that the people of Iraq also say they are confident the speed of Iranian response will be the same if the terrorist goons make the fatal mistake to attack Baghdad or the holy cities.