Iran Deal Strengthens Tehran’s Influence And Power Through Proxies In Neighbouring Iraq And Syria


The Iran nuclear deal is due to come into effect on “Adoption Day”, and The Henry Jackson Society is warning that the easing of sanctions against Tehran will see the regime strengthening it’s hold over Iraq through its support of paramilitary forces.

Frontline interviews with senior commanders and fighters from Iraq’s Shia militia currently engaged in fighting Islamic State exposes the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp’s established system of arming, funding and training the sectarian fighters.  The conclusions, published today in our study, comes as Tehran continues to spread its influence through the Middle East – in recent days deploying thousands of Iranian troops in support of the Assad regime in a ground offensive around Aleppo.

“Tehran’s Servants: Iraq’s Shia Militias Emerge As The Key Armed Forces Facing IS in Iraq” details how the Shia militias are engaged against IS.  It is based on a research trip to Iraq’s battle zones by journalist and Middle East analyst Jonathan Spyer.  He says: “With the Middle East facing ongoing state collapse and conflict, mapping and understand the role of Iran-supported sectarian militias in the emerging un-governed spaces of the region is a vital task in the broader project of seeking to understand the meaning and direction of regional events. The Shia militia mobilisation in Iraq is a crucial development that will have a major impact on the future of that country.”

The report shows the political and military connections between Iran and the militias, with the elite Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani providing a direct operational channel between Iran’s Supreme Leader and events in Iraq.

This extension of Tehran’s influence through such proxies has profound implications for the region as a whole.  HJS’s Executive Director Dr Alan Mendoza says: “The West has taken its eye off the broad strategic picture, which has seen Iran extend its influence throughout the Middle East region. Iran is already the dominant force in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and interferes at will in the Gulf. This deal will only encourage such activity further by removing diplomatic pressure for good behaviour, and giving Iran a financial windfall with which to arm its regional allies’.

The report is the first from Jonathan Spyer as he joins The Henry Jackson Society as an Associate Fellow.  It warns of the dangers of the destablisation of Iraq into sectarian divides, preventing this is crucial to ensuring Iranian hegemony does not emerge in the region, which is of concern to British policymakers and our allies considering Tehran’s growing influence and ability to shape events through proxies in the Middle East.

Notes to Editors

Jonathan Spyer is a journalist and Middle East analyst specializing in the Levant area. He is the Director of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum. Spyer is a columnist at the Jerusalem Post and is a regular contributor to a number of publications including Janes’ Intelligence Review and the Australian newspaper.

The Henry Jackson Society is a think tank and policy-shaping force that fights for the principles and alliances which keep societies free – working across borders and party lines to combat extremism, advance democracy and real human rights, and make a stand in an increasingly uncertain world. 

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