Iran’s high-profile efforts to bully everyone in the Middle East have been getting a ton of attention this week. However, a group of Texas National Guardsmen recently revealed much more subtle, and potentially more important, ways that Iran could fill the power vacuum left by the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.
It’s not news that Iran’s Quds Force (which translates to Jerusalem Force) waged a proxy war against U.S. troops in Iraq. However, Military.com’s newest member, Mike Hoffman, just filed a piece about how officers of the Texas-based 36th infantry division, one of the last American units to rotate through Iraq, told lawmakers about opportunities for Tehran to wage a soft takeover of weak spots in the Iraqi military and economy:
With the Iranian-backed Shia Dawa party controlling much of Baghdad and southern Iraq, Spurgin’s unit of 700 Guardsmen witnessed the small pieces of economic and political influence affecting the Iraqi government and army.
For example, Army Brig. Gen. William Smith, 36th Infantry’s deputy commander, said he worried the Iraqi army’s shaky logistics system would open up doors for Iranian agents to gain favor inside army operations.
Iraq’s supply chain still works on a paper system that depends on approvals from officers as senior as generals for supplies as basic as tires. That’s in addition to the reality that Iraq has no system in place to deliver supplies to units in the field from the country’s only depots, located at Taji.
So if an Iraqi army unit needs tires for Humvees in Basrah, for example, that unit must travel all the way to Taji to pick them up. Of course, it’s rare for a unit commander to approve such a trip because it shows he’s failed as a leader if his unit needs new tires, Smith explained.
“It’s part of the military culture we’re trying to change over there,” he said.
If soldiers can’t depend on their army to supply them, they must look elsewhere. In many cases, they turn to supplies smuggled over the Iran border.
Those smuggling efforts included the ingredients to build improvised explosive devices. Iran’s special operations unit, known as the Quds Force, trained many of the Iraq militia members who execute the smuggling operations inside Iraq, Spurgin said.
The Texas soldiers didn’t focus solely on advanced military operations out of Iran. In a briefing to a Texas congressional delegation on Capitol Hill, the Guardsmen explained how something as simple as groceries allows Iran’s government to gain power in Iraq.
Iran is flooding Iraq’s markets with goods at much cheaper prices than other imports, leading other countries’ suppliers, in places such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, to not bother to sell in Iraq. Those supplies allow Iran to control southern Iraq’s markets and thus its stomachs.
Perhaps most revealing about the threat of Iranian influence inside Iraq is the fact that the Iraqi army is functionally a heavy police force; capable only of fighting terrorists and providing other forms of “internal security” not defending the country’s borders from other militaries, according to Spurgin:
When asked by Conaway if the Iraqis could protect their borders from an external threat such as Iran, he bluntly said no. Spurgin told the congressman the Iraqis could not defend against an invading force.
“Operationally, the Iraqi Army has the ability to provide internal security of their own country, but they’re not ready to defend their country from an external threat,” Spurgin said.
This news combined with other reports describing Iraq on the brink of civil war, paint a picture of a country ripe for a subtle proxy takeover push by an Iran that’s looking for such an opportunity to expand its power and influence. You can bet that the United States will fight this. But, as our military attention shifts toward Asia and we drop our ability to fight two wars at once, it will be interesting to see how we do this.