As protests against the Iranian government erupt across the country, its senior leadership is reportedly considering calling on Iraqi militia groups for support in containing the violence.
“This movement is more widespread than two years ago, and it is more anti-regime than the Green Movement a decade ago. It has evaporated any legitimacy and made any claim of regional authority and hegemony by this regime look ridiculous,” says Says Abdullah Mohtadi, the leader of Komala, an Iranian Kurdish opposition group.
If protests which started over a dramatic rise in petroleum continue to grow out of control, the Iranian regime may turn to desperate measures.
“My sources have warned me that there has been some discussion in the regime about moving some of the Hashd Al Shabi from Iraq to Iran,” says Mohsen Sazegara, a former bureaucrat in the Islamic Republic until his 2003 defection. Hashd Al Shabi is an Iraqi Shia militia unit with close ties to the government in Tehran.
Both Mohtadi and Sazegara are senior leaders of the Iranian Transition Council — which began operations last month and has been in contact with individuals in the Iranian security services since protests against the Iranian government began in earnest five days ago.
So far, the protests in Iran have had a broad footprint across the country. While Iran has seen waves of demonstrations since 2017, the ongoing protests are the first to take place in the aftermath of street protests in Sudan and Algeria which ultimately led to regime change in those two countries.
Mohsen Sazegara says the regime is classifying cities based on the intensity of protests and deploying its limited forces accordingly. The cities with most intense protests are labelled “red” , “grey” for bordering on “red”, and “white” cities seen as safely under the control of the regime – ironically a color that was closely associated with Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran’s former Shah who was overthrown in the Iranian revolution of 1979 after leading his own “White Revolution” in the 1960s. Neither claim could be verified.
Sazegara said he believes that the notion of Iran deploying Hashd Al Shabi forces to Iraq seems credible given the fact that Iran deployed Hezbollah units to Iran in 2009 to help it suppress the Green Movement.
While neither Iran or Hezbollah have ever admitted to this at the time, some reported as many as 300 Hezbollah operatives had redeployed to Iran to help the Iranian regime something that BBC Persian also reported in its broadcast according to media reports.
In 2015, the controversy was renewed when an individual identified as a senior Hezbollah commander associated with the crackdown on the Green movement in 2009 reportedly died fighting Da’esh forces in Iraq.
The recent revelation of the extent of Iranian influence in Iraq thanks to leaked documents to the New York Times has added fuel to an active street protest. Those documents detail the close ties between the Iranian government and Al Hashd that are part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) which sprang up to help the Iraqi government defeat Da’esh from 2014 to 2017. Last year such forces were given equal status and pay to the Iraqi Army. In response, many commentators have named it a new “Republican Guard” after the defunct elite military unit crafted by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
The situation for other Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthi forces in Yemen are no less complex and would seem to preclude their involvement.
Majid Qaysi, a former Director of Intelligence Analysis for the Directorate of Military of Intelligence in Iraq thinks that a redeployment of Al Hashd forces or other Shia militia groups to Iran is unlikely.
“The demonstrations in Iran has not reached the level of danger where the regime in Tehran is threatened,” said Qaysi in an exclusive interview. Qaysi retired in 2016 with the rank of general, “The situation in Iraq is also escalating at the moment as well.”
The deployment of a significant number of Iraqi militia forces to Iran could be politically dangerous for Iran. So, to could the fall of a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad.
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