An Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) military commander was killed fighting the Islamic State in Iraq’s Anbar province, according to reports in the Iranian press. Iran has sent IRGC and Basij members to fight in both Syria and Iraq. Those in the IRGC are likely members of the elite Qods Force, the external operations wing of the IRGC.
The commander, Jassem Nouri, was reportedly killed on May 28 while fighting against the Islamic State near Ramadi. The Islamic State defeated the Iraqi military in Ramadi and drove it out of the city on May 17. The Iraqi government has called on Iranian-supported Shiite militias to eject the jihadist group from the provincial capital of Anbar. Hezbollah Brigades, which is listed by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and is supported by Qods Force, is leading the fight to retake the city.
Little information was given about Nouri, other than that he was from the Iranian province of Khuzestan, which borders Iraq. News agencies also identified Nouri as having been a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War. When discussing his role in Iraq, the Iranian press reported that he was a “defender of the shrines,” which refers to holy Shiite shrines in places such as Najaf or Karbala. According to Radio Free Europe’s Farsi service, Nouri was “actively involved in the Syrian and Iraqi fronts.”
Nouri is not the first IRGC commander to have been killed in Iraq. The IRGC announced that Brigadier General Hamid Taqavi was “martyred” while serving in Samarra, close to the “shrine of Imam Hassan Askari,” on Dec. 27, 2014, Jahan News, a hard-line Iranian media outlet reported. Taqavi was killed by an Islamic State “sniper,”ABNA noted. The Iranian general fought alongside Saraya Khorasani, an Iranian-backed Shiite militia. [See LWJ report, Islamic State kills Qods Force general in central Iraq.]
Other IRGC members have been killed in Syria. In January, a Qods Force general was killed alongside five other Iranian officers and six Hezbollah fighters in an Israeli airstrike in southern Syria. Several senior Qods Force officers and Iranian politicians spoke very highly of the general after his death. [See LWJ reports, Senior Qods Force general killed in suspected Israeli airstrike and Iranian political and military leaders laud Qods Force general killed in Syria.]
Additionally, an Iranian Basij general was killed fighting in Aleppo in October 2014. The Basij forces are a voluntary paramilitary force within Iran that is directly under the command of the IRGC and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. In December 2013, a commander within the IRGC was killed in Damascus. In June 2014, another commander was killed in Damascus. And in July 2014, seven members of the Revolutionary Guard were killed fighting rebel forces.
IRGC leaders have also been spotted on the front lines of key Iraqi battles. For instance, Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Qods Force, was at the forefront of Iraq’s fight to take back Tikrit from the Islamic State. Soleimani was photographed several times with various Shiite militias that Iran directly supports. In October 2014, he was also seen near Jurf al Sahkar in Iraq’s Babil province after Iraqi forces took the city back from the Islamic State. In November 2014, Soleimani was spotted near Samarra helping Iraqi forces in the defense of that city.
Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Anbar
The presence of Iranian military advisers in Anbar should come as no surprise. Several Iranian-backed militias are leading the fight in the province, a predominately Sunni Muslim area of Iraq. Thousands of fighters from Shiite militias operating under the aegis of the Popular Mobilization Committee, backed by units from the Iraqi Army’s Golden Division and more than a thousand policemen, launched a counteroffensive last weekend from the city of Habbaniyah, one of the last government-controlled areas in eastern Anbar yesterday.
One of those groups, the Hezbollah Brigades, is a US-designated terrorist organization. Hezbollah Brigades confirmed on its website that it was involved in the fighting in Ramadi. The group blamed the fall of Ramadi on Iraqi politicians who held the militias back from the fight in Anbar.
“The security breach that took place in Ramadi was the result of some politicians trusting the Americans,” Hezbollah Brigades quoted one of its commanders deployed near Ramadi. The statement is a swipe at Prime Minister Haider al Abadi, who has been advised by the US not to deploy Shiite militias to the province.
The Hezbollah Brigades also recently released footage from Anbar. The 10-minute video, which can be seen below, shows its forces, along with the Iraqi Security Forces, mobilizing for the operation, which is titled “Labaik ya Hussein,” or “At your service, oh Hussein.” The phrase is used by Shiite Muslims to remember the martyr Hussein, the son of Ali.
The Hezbollah Brigades video shows the terrorist group operating several US-made M113 armored personnel carriers, Humvees, and other US equipment supplied to the Iraqi military. Several US M1 Abrams tanks are featured in the video, but it is unclear if Hezbollah Brigades or Iraqi Security Forces are using them. The Hezbollah Brigades, however, has shown to be in possession of at least one M1 Abrams in the past.
Despite the overt presence of Iranian military advisers and Hezbollah Brigades in the Ramadi counteroffensive, General (retired) John Allen, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition To Counter ISIL, or the Islamic State, has attempted to portray the Shiite militias operating in Anbar as separate from the “extremist elements” that are supported by Iran. [See Threat Matrix report, US support for Iranian-backed Shiite militias ‘should not alarm us,’ General Allen says.]
The US has been conducting airstrikes in the province despite the prominent role played by Hezbollah Brigades. Over the past 24 hours, the US launched three airstrikes in Anbar targeting Islamic State fighters and equipment in Ramadi, Fallujah, and Hit, according to a US military press release.
Hezbollah Brigades video from Anbar province