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Iranian general at the forefront of the Tikrit offensive

Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Qods Force, the external operations wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), is at the forefront of Iraq's offensive to take back Tikrit. Several Shiite groups are taking part in the offensive, including the Badr Brigade, Asaib al Haq (League of the Righteous), Kata'ib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades), Kata'ib Imam Ali, Saraya Khorasani, and Kata'ib Saeed al Shuhada. All of these groups are supported by Iran and the IRGC.

Many members of the Qods Force and the wider IRGC are thought to be present with Iraqi military forces, as well. According to The Wall Street Journal, the US has refused to support the Tikrit offensive with air assets due to the presence of IRGC elements. However, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran's involvement could be "a positive thing" if the Shiite militias do not conduct revenge killings in and around Tikrit. General Dempsey also said that the Shiite militias are thought to make up two thirds of the fighting force at Tikrit.

Fars News, which is the semi-official news organization of Iran, has confirmed Soleimani's presence in Tikrit. The Fars News report specifies that Soleimani, Hadi al Ameri, leader of the Badr Brigade, and Qais al Khazali, the leader of Asaib al Haq, are leading the operations room for the battle of Tikrit. Several leaders within Asaib al Haq are listed by the US as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The Iranian-proxy group has also been behind several crimes against Iraqi Sunnis and is responsible for killing hundreds of Americans between 2006-2011. Soleimani and other members of the Qods Force are in Tikrit to support and advise the Iraqi military and the various Shiite militias taking part in the offensive, according to Fars.

Soleimani has been spotted on the Iraqi and Syrian battlefields many times before. Last October, he was seen near Jurf al Sahkar in Iraq's Babil Province after Iraqi forces took the city back from the Islamic State. In November, Soleimani was seen near Samarra helping Iraqi forces in the defense of that city. Last month, photos emerged online purporting to show him with Syrian regime troops in the southern Syrian province of Daraa. The Assad regime launched an offensive in southern Syria last month and it is likely Soleimani was there to assist Syrian forces in that fight.

In many pictures released by Fars and others circulating on social media, Soleimani has been spotted several times on the battlefield of Tikrit in recent days.

[Source: By Caleb Weiss, Threat Matrix, The Long War Journal, NJ, 05Mar15]

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