Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – Qods, has been photographed several times during his latest visits to the front lines of Fallujah, Iraq, where Iranian-backed Population Mobilization Forces (PMF) are operating. He has been photographed alongside PMF commanders such as Abu Mehdi al Muhandis and Akram Abbas al Kaabi. He is also shown with officers wearing Iraqi Security Forces uniform, such as the one above.
But last week, this photograph of Soleimani surfaced with an unusual companion: the commander of the IRGC Ground Forces Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour. A veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, Pakpour has had a long and distinguished military career, taking over as commander of the Ground Forces in 2009. Pakpour is not known to have visited the front lines in Iraq or Syria where militias operate. What was he doing there? His presence in Fallujah underscores the importance of operations in Iraq to the IRGC’s leadership.
In the past month, at least two IRGC members have been killed near Fallujah. On May 25, Iranian media reported IRGC Basij paramilitary member and veteran of the Iran-Iraq War Ghorban Najaf (Abu Sobhan) succumed to injuries sustained in Fallujah the month before. On May 14, another Basij member, Alireza Babaei, was announced killed by an IS IED in Fallujah. The regular Ground Forces are deeply involved in Syria, losing 400 men in the past four years.
Soleimani was spotted at the front lines of Fallujah on May 23, when Iraqi forces launched the operation to retake the city from the Islamic State. Iranian-backed Iraqi militias have bombarded militias and have captured areas in the vicinity of the town, but they have not entered Fallujah city, per an arrangement with the Iraqi government. Soleimani then traveled to Tehran on May 27 to brief a group of newly-elected parliamentarians on the regional situation.