Iran’s empire of proxy fighters
January 6, 2020 - A network of foreign militias built by General Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian commander assassinated in Iraq by the U.S., are likely to remain Tehran’s primary weapon in its asymmetric fight against Washington.
Soleimani’s network of third parties began in Lebanon, where he backed the Shiite Hezbollah group, formed in 1982 in reaction to Israel’s occupation of the country’s south.
Following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps -- under Soleimani’s direction -- armed Iraqi Shiite militias with roadside bombs and other weapons to attack U.S. forces. Iran’s support for Shiite militias in Iraq expanded from 2014, when the Baghdad government backed the Popular Mobilization Forces as a means to fight Islamic State.
In Syria, Iran intervened to preserve its only state ally, President Bashir Al-Assad, in the country’s ongoing civil war, with Hezbollah and militias from Iraq as well as Shiites from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Since 2015, Iran has backed Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen against forces supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. On Friday, Houthis called the killing of Soleimani “a war crime,” saying “striking U.S. bases in the region is the only available solution.”
Now, the proxy infrastructure Soleimani set up before his death could provide the means to strike back at U.S. interests across the region.
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