Qasem Soleimani, Head of the Iranian revolutionary guards: ISNA file photo
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—General Qasem Soleimani, Head of Iran’s elite Quds forces is said to be back in Iraq to prepare for the Mosul battle with Iraqi government forces and leaders of the Shiite militia known as Hashd al-Shaabi.
“Soleimani has arrived in the Mosul area to have a look at the situation and to study the possibility of the Mosul liberation battle,” an Iraqi MP has told the pan-Arabic Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper on condition of anonymity. “He entered the Iraqi territory through the Mundhirya border gate of Dyala province,”
The MP has said that Soleimani “with some of his colleagues and security guards went straight to Kirkuk and from there to the Nineveh area, without passing through Baghdad,”
The MP who hails from Dyala and is part of the Muttahidoon alliance led by Osama al-Nujaifi told the paper, “An Iraqi officer in Mundhirya border gate told me Soleimani and his colleagues entered Iraq with Iranian number plates, and without showing their passports, and the officer contacted the related security agencies and they told him that Soleimani was allowed to enter Iraq without passport and that he is an advisor to Iraqi government.”
Soleimani played an important role in the battle for Tikrit and parts of Diyala in 2014-15 by leading Shiite militia forces ahead of government troops to expel Islamic State (ISIS) militants.
According to Alarabiya TV, Soleimani has also spent time with Shite leaders in Najaf and Karbala on this most recent trip to Iraq.
Said Ahmed Assadi, a spokesperson for the Hashd Al-Shaabi confirmed Soleimani’s link to the Shiite militia, saying: “Soleimani is not only the military advisor to Hashd, but also advisor to the army, federal police and counter terror agency.”
A high-ranking Hashd official, Nazim Assadi, said that there was strong Iranian support for the Hashd al-Shaabi, and “We receive the support from Iraqi government, not directly from Iran and our status is like any other security organization,” according to Asharq Al-Awsat’s Wednesday edition.
And Assadi said that Iran has been supporting the Shiite militia from the very start.
“I am here with Hashd and I confirm that from the establishment day there has been Iranian support according to an Iraqi-Iranian government agreement to support Iraq with weapons, advisors and trainers for the war on ISIS,” he told the paper. “This support is not only for Hashd, but for the ministries of defense, interior and counterterrorism agency.”
Iraq’s Sunni leaders have long complained that the Shiite militia are involved in extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses during their assault on Sunni towns and have blamed Iran for its interference in Iraqi affairs.
“The Iraqi army has great military leaders and they have long experience in combat since the Iran- Iraq war, and we have to rely on them not on the Iranian leader,” said Hamid Mutlaq, a member of the parliamentary security and defense committee. “Soleimani’s participation in the Mosul battle is rejected by us, because it will affect the Iraqi army’s reputation of its victories.”