A member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) who was embedded with Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) was killed on Saturday by an Islamic State booby trap near the Tal Afar airport, which is to the west of Mosul, according to Iranian media. The PMF, the umbrella organization of Iraqi-Shiite militias fighting the Islamic State that is dominated by IRGC-backed groups, has claimed new gains near Tal Afar during the past week. The death of Guard member Kheirollah Ahmadi underscores Iran’s involvement in Iraq.
The IRGC has released little details about the slain operative. During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), Ahmadi served with distinction in a sabotage battalion and the Hunayn Battalion – of the IRGC Ground Forces’ Hazrat-e Nabi Akram Corps – according to reports citing a Guard commander. That same commander introduced Ahmadi as a member of the Hunayn Battalion, indicating that he was active duty prior to his Iraq deployment. The IRGC has deployed both active duty and retired officers to Syria and Iraq.
The Nabi Akram Corps is stationed in the predominantly Shiite-Kurdish Kermanshah province in western Iran. In the past, members from the provincial unit and that battalion have deployed to Syria in support of pro-regime operations.
The IRGC has not divulged details of Ahmadi’s military activities in Iraq, or whether he also rotated into Syria. Iraqi PMF members nicknamed him “al-batal,” or “the hero,” and he operated as a commander, according to a senior Guard officer. An obituary poster of Ahmadi also described him as a “commander,” and several Iranian newspapers used the honorific title of “Sardar,” or the equivalent of a Brigadier General. At his scheduled funeral in West Eslam-Abad County in Kermanshah on Tuesday, he is expected to receive a hero’s burial.
The IRGC’s external operations branch, the Quds Force, and its nominally domestic branch, the Ground Forces, have been advising PMF units and various Shiite militias since the rise of the Islamic State in 2014. The Quds Force has extensively operated in Iraq since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, while Ground Forces including the Basij paramilitary augmented their Quds Force comrades after the Islamic State swept into the country. At least 2,000 Iranians reportedly deployed to Iraq in June 2014 immediately following the Sunni extremist group’s lightening advances. Many of the regular Iranian forces were called back home after IRGC-backed Shiite militias and Iraqi forces started rolling back the Islamic State, and the IRGC turned to escalating its Syria military campaign in September 2015.
Regular Iranian combatants continue to deploy to Iraq and embed with Shiite militias. In the past year, the majority of regular IRGC forces who have been announced killed in Iraq have been experienced veterans of the Iran-Iraq War. At least 37 Iranians have died in military operations in Iraq since 2014, according to data compiled by Ali Alfoneh.
While the loss of the latest veteran may be a blow to the Guard, there are many other operatives ready to take his place. The IRGC continues to demonstrate its total commitment to emerging as a dominant force in post-Islamic State Iraq.