American officials are reporting that Iran is supplying Iraqi forces with tons of military equipment and other supplies. According to a senior American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing classified reports, “It’s a substantial amount. It’s not necessarily heavy weaponry, but it is not just light arms and ammunition.” There are also claims that Iran is using an airfield in Baghdad to direct surveillance drones over Iraq.
Iran and the United States agree on the need to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. The ISIS militants have recently seized a number of towns and cities in western and northern Iraq in a blitzkrieg across those areas of the country. Secretary of State John Kerry said in an appearance at NATO headquarters, “From our point of view, we’ve made it clear to everyone in the region that we don’t need anything to take place that might exacerbate the sectarian divisions that are already at a heightened level of tension.”
Both the United States and Iran have small numbers of military advisers now stationed in Iraq. Both countries have been providing military support to the embattled government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force has sent a dozen officers to advise Iraqi commanders and to help with the mobilization of more than 2,000 Shiites from southern Iraq, while about 300 American commandos are being deployed to assess Iraqi forces and the deteriorating security situation. Senior American officials have emphasized that the parallel efforts were not coordinated.
Both countries are now jostling for more influence in the region. Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, commented, “Iran is likely to be playing somewhat of an overarching command role within the central Iraqi military apparatus, with an emphasis on maintaining cohesiveness in Baghdad and the Shia south and managing the reconstitution of Shia militias.”