U.S. military spokesman, Colonel Chris Garver, now estimates the number of Iranian-backed Shiite fighters, Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq at 100,000 and the estimates coincide with Russia’s announcement on Tuesday that it and Iran are bombing ISIS in Syria from an Iranian military base. This newly known estimate of the Iranian supported PMF size was first mentioned by U.S. Central Command’s (CENTCOM) commander, Army General Joe Votel, in July to the Tampa Bay Times. This increase in PMF fighters in Iraq gives the impression that Iran is choosing to have a much larger and deeper role in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS).
In recent reports, it surfaced that Iran’s Syria-based commander, General Suleimani (or Soleimani), was planning to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul (Major General Qassem Suleimani is the commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps [IRGC] Quds Force [Iranian special forces]) despite only being originally dispatched to Syria in an “advisory role.” The IRGC Quds Force is now expected to play a major role in retaking the Iraqi city of Mosul, another ISIS stronghold since 2014. The Long War Journal first reported that General Suleimani has moved his troops to the outskirts of Mosul in preparation for the operation and is planning a coordinated operation with the Iraqi government and the PMF.
Colonel Garver was implicit in one regard to Iran by stating this:
“We are not coordinating with the Iranians in any way, we are not working with them in any way. The government of Iraq comes up with the plan, we are supporting [their] plan for the seizure of Mosul.”
As the dynamics surrounding the key players in the fight against ISIS change, so do the number of key players with China now entering the picture. A senior Chinese military official of the People’s Liberation Army, Rear Admiral Guan Youfei, announced that Syria has approved the Chinese military provide humanitarian aid and training to Syria and Syrian personnel.
What remains to be seen is where Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr fits in all of this, if at all. In May, al-Sadr made an immediate trip to Iran and in July, called for attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.