A senior Iranian Quds Force official arrived in Baghdad today to start his new position as the Islamic Republic’s ambassador to Iraq, the Iranian state-run media reports. Brigadier General Iraj Masjedi, a senior aide to Quds Force Commander Major General Qassem Soleimani, was reportedly welcomed by a senior delegation from Iraq’s Foreign Ministry at the Baghdad International Airport. He replaces Hassan Danaeifar, who served as Tehran’s ambassador to Baghdad for more than six years. According to Fars News Agency, an outlet affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.), the Iraqi government had approved Tehran’s controversial ambassador nominee last month.
Comment: The appointment of Masjedi – the third consecutive Quds Force commander serving as Tehran’s top diplomat in post-Saddam Iraq – is emblematic of the I.R.G.C.’s growing influence over Iraq’s security and politics. It also indicates it is the I.R.G.C., rather than civilian government in Tehran, that is in charge of the Islamic Republic’s policies in Iraq. Masjedi’s two predecessors, Danaeifar and Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, were also senior Quds Force officials.
When the Iranian media first reported on Masjedi’s appointment almost three months ago, the news triggered concerns in Washington and in Sunni Arab states because of the Quds Force’s role in regional conflicts and Masjedi’s long-standing links with sectarian groups in Iraq and the broader region. Thamer al-Sabhan, the Saudi minister of state for the Gulf region, for example, blasted Tehran for appointing “a war criminal and [one of the] world’s wanted men as its envoy in Iraq.” The Quds Force is the I.R.G.C.’s external operations arm and is designated by the United States as a terrorist entity.
Masjedi’s role in Iraq dates back to the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, when he served as the chief of staff of the I.R.G.C.’s Ramazan Base, operating inside Iraq and playing a key role in equipping, training and leading anti-Saddam Iraqi militant groups such as the Badr Brigade. He later became the chief commander of Ramazan Base. In a recent speech, Masjedi stated: “The Ramazan Base was established during the [Iraq] war to conduct asymmetric, guerrilla, intelligence and special operations and work with Iraqi movements and mujahedin groups.” He added that Quds Force operatives are doing the same job today in Iraq, Syria and beyond. “Aleppo, Fallujah and other regions in Syria and Iraq are the front line of the Islamic Resistance,” he said last June, and added that “the fight in Syria and Iraq serves to defend our country’s borders.”
In another speech earlier this years, Masjedi claimed credit for organizing and supporting regional sectarian militiamen to fight Iran’s wars in the Middle East. “The front line for our combatants in the past [Iran-Iraq war] was Abadan and Khoramshahr and Mehran and Haj Imran; and now it is Mosul, Lebanon and Aleppo and Syria.”
Now that the Islamic State is on the brink of defeat in Iraq, Masjedi’s efforts will be focused more on consolidating Iran’s influence in Iraq. The Quds Force commander will undoubtedly utilize his decades-long experience in Iraq to bring Baghdad closer to Tehran. He may also use I.R.G.C.’s leverage with certain Iraqi sectarian groups to make Baghdad a more pliant partner at the expense of Iraq’s stability and the interests of the United States and its regional allies.