Iraj Masjedi, a general in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, assumed his post as the new Iranian ambassador to Iraq on Wednesday. The appointment could be an ill omen of Iran’s influence in post-Islamic State Iraq.
The Revolutionary Guards Corps is bad news, and Masjedi was involved in its worst element, the Quds Force – Iran’s dirty-tricks team of saboteurs and subversives, heavily involved in the killing of American troops in Iraq. Masjedi has been an adviser to Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani, a military hero in Iran for his work in Iraq and Syria.
Reuters sees Masjedi’s appointment as “a sign of the key role the [Revolutionary Guards Corps] is currently playing in its neighboring country.”
Soleimani has been coordinating Shiite militia groups to fight against the Islamic State occupation. He was seen near Mosul in October when the siege of that ISIS-occupied city began, working with Iran-backed militia groups that have been designated terrorist organizations by the U.S. government. He also made some trips as a “political official” to Iraqi Kurdistan, where he tried to convince the Kurds they should avoid clashes with Iran-backed Shiite militia and refrain from annexing Iraqi territories for Kurdistan.
Reuters notes that Masjedi’s 35 years in the IRGC included coordinating with Iraq opposition groups against the government of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War in the 80s. Some of the insurgents he helped train are now senior officials in the post-Saddam Iraqi government.
In December, Masjedi told the audience at a ceremony commemorating an IRGC officer who died in Syria that Iraq’s “Popular Mobilization Forces” (largely comprised of Shiite militias) are part of Iran’s plan to “export the revolution.”
“The next step of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been the formation of the massive basij [mobilization] force that is faithful and a friend of Islamic Iran, such as the Iraqi Hashd al Shabi [PMF], which has been established as a powerful army with our organizing and our experience in the Sacred Defense [Iran-Iraq War],” Masjedi said, as translated by the Long War Journal.
Not long before Masjedi’s speech, the PMF was officially recognized as a permanent and independent security force for the Iraqi government. This delighted Iran, whose Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hailed the PMF as “a great wealth, a major resource for today and the future of Iraq,” which should be “supported and consolidated.”
Some argue that Masjedi’s key mission in Iraq is to make sure Iran has a seat at the table when Mosul is liberated from the Islamic State:
BAGHDAD- Gen.#Soleimani's aide Gen. Iraj Masjedi arrives as Iran's Ambassador to coordinate formation of new Iraqi govt. after Mosul is free
— Amir Taheri (@AmirTaheri4) April 19, 2017
Iran’s ambassadors to Iraq are usually drawn from the Revolutionary Guards Corps; Masjedi’s predecessor was also a Quds Force officer. The difference, as the Washington Institute notes, is that Masjedi is highly ranked, close to Soleimani, and experienced as an intelligence and military operations officer. The previous ambassador was a civil engineer by trade.
Masjedi is on record calling for Muslims to united against “Zionism and imperialism” so the destruction of Israel can be “hastened.” He has suggested Iran should arm and direct terrorist activity in the West Bank and Gaza to keep Israel “busy at its own borders.”
The Washington Institute’s report on Masjedi speculates that he might be in Iraq on a mission to keep Shiite militias united and motivated as a fighting force after the defeat of ISIS — perhaps as leverage against Sunni Muslims in Iraq, or to deploy as extra muscle in Syria, or even to “confront Israel.”