Iran proposes joint military exercises with Iraq and possible air defense cooperation
In the wake of Iran shooting down a US drone over the Gulf of Oman an Iranian military delegation visited Iraq on June 23-24 and met with senior officers.
ISNA reported on Monday that Iran’s land forces commander of Koumars Heydari (کیومرث حیدری) suggested joint exercises in a meeting with Iraqi deputy commander of the army Major General Tariq Abbas Ibrahim (طارق عباس ابراهیم ). This is an important meeting and comes in the wake of recent visits by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Iraq in March and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to Iran in April.
“Iran and Iraq have many reasons and common grounds to unite and consolidate Islamic power in the region." -Alireza Sabahifard, commander of Iran's Air Defense Forces
“Iran and Iraq have many reasons and common grounds to unite and consolidate Islamic power in the region," Alireza Sabahifard, commander of Iran's Air Defense Forces (Khatam al-Anbia Air Defense) of Artesh, Iran's regular military, said on Sunday, according to ISNA. “We are ready to create expert committees for all areas in order to establish and improve bilateral cooperation."
Iran suggested the cooperation according to Fars News when a delegation from Iran visited an Iraqi installation. After Alireza Sabahifard met with the Iraqi deputy commander of the army Tariq Abbas Ibrahim on Sunday, Iran said it was ready to create an expert committee to look at joint air defense.
The subject of Iraq and Iran working together on air defense would likely be a major hurdle for US policy makers and continued involvement in Iraq. This is especially true in the wake of the downing of the US drone.
In subsequent meetings, according to ISNA’s report, the Iranians and Iraqis arranged for the likelihood of joint drills. “The ground forces are at the highest level of combat readiness and are ready to transfer experiences in the field to the Iraqi army,” Heydari said. The same meeting and statement was reported in several other media.
"There are strong religious and moral bonds of the past, and today these bonds are stronger with the love of the people of the house [of Islam]," Heydari asserted. "These common bonds between Iran and Iraq led to the two countries facing common threats." The security in the region was unstable due to interventions by other countries, he did not indicate which. This appeared directed at the US. He also said Iraq and Iran had worked together to confront terrorist groups that threaten both countries, a reference to ISIS and other extremists.
According to Fars News, "the commander of the Iranian army's ground force expressed his hope to strengthen bilateral cooperation between Iran and Iraq in the political, defense, economic and cultural fields through the exchange of delegations between the two countries." Agreements had already been concluded, he alluded to, "in the transfer of expertise in the field of armored vehicles, artillery and airborne and other exercises, and we are waiting for a positive response from the Iraqi army."
"We have good experience in the field of defense, and it is good to have a ground where we can strengthen the Iraqi army in this area...We are Muslim countries, we have common borders, and we expect joint maneuvers at any level where Iraq is ready to do it." - Iran land forces commander of Koumars Heydari
He discussed the unbreakable spiritual connection of the countries. Most of the discussion appeared to center around shared religious devotion, as opposed to tactics, strategy and divisions. Iraq thanked Iran for its support during the war against Islamic State and indicated that assistance might be welcomed in the fields of battlefield medical knowledge and also snipers and special forces. It was unclear why Iraq, which has been fighting ISIS for years, needs this from Iran’s regular army which has not been engaging in operations recently. Abbas Ibrahim also said Iraq required support in engineering works, de-mining and repair of existing engineering equipment. "In particular in the field of telecommunications for various educational courses," he told the Iranians.
However the central issue is closer work of the two militaries. The men discussed the need for Iran and Iraq to be closely connected. This will involve political, defense, economic, and cultural fields. "Inshallah, these new ties and ideas will happen,” Heydari said. A video appeared at one website.
The meeting comes as Iraq is at a crossroads after the war on ISIS. The US and the coalition against ISIS is still providing training to Iraq, but there has been controversy about continued US presence. The June 16-18 rocket attacks in Mosul, near Balad air base, Camp Taji, near the Basra oil facilities and in May near the US embassy in Baghdad, point to tensions rising.
The US wants to continue supporting the Iraqi army and special forces but the US has labelled several major Shi’ite paramilitary groups terrorist organizations even as those groups, as part of the PMU, are officially part of the Iraqi security forces. The US views Iran’s IRGC as a terrorist group, which would make it difficult if Iran was carrying out joint drills with Iraq if the IRGC had any role. Currently the meetings appear to be between Iran’s conventional army or Artesh, and their Iraqi counterparts.