Small Wars Journal

Beyond Soleimani: Implications for Iran’s Proxy Network in Iraq and Syria

Beyond Soleimani: Implications for Iran’s Proxy Network in Iraq and Syria by Nakissa Jahanbani – Combatting Terrorism Center

Early on January 3, U.S. airstrikes near Baghdad International Airport killed Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force (IRGC-QF) Major General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi politician and militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was deputy chief of the Popular Mobilization Commission and the founder of the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia. These strikes occurred against a background of rising escalation between the United States and Iran in Iraq, particularly after December 27 when Kata’ib Hezbollah, a prominent Iranian proxy, killed a U.S. citizen and pro-Iranian militia members attacked the U.S. embassy in Baghdad just four days later.

Considered by many to be one of the principal architects of Iran’s extensive regional reach, Soleimani cultivated relationships with dozens of proxies throughout the Middle East and beyond. But while the international focus on Soleimani’s death is warranted, the death of al-Muhandis is significant in its own right, both due to his role in Iraq, but also in what it signals about what Soleimani’s, and by extension Iran’s, priorities in Iraq were. In one strike, the United States removed two of the most critical actors in Iranian regional strategy, and the global audience was left wondering: what is next for IRGC-QF’s role in the region, particularly its relationships with its partner militias in Iraq and Syria?...

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