Iran, Supply Lines, and the Power of the Shia in Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 11 months ago

Iran has designs on a regional Caliphate, and has positioned special operations forces in Iraq.  These troops, along with the Shia in Iraq, could pose more than just a theoretical threat later down the road.  If desired, they could cut or at least cripple the U.S. lines of supply in Iraq.

In Iran’s Iraq Strategy and Iran Muscles in on Iraq, as well as my posts in the Iran category, I outline what I believe to be Iran’s strategy for Iraq.  The peace cannot be won with al Qaeda by any amount of politics.  The same can be said for the Sunni diehards in al Anbar, as well as those Sunni fighters filtering into the Baghdad area.  I have long held that one key to the security of Baghdad is peace in the Sunni triangle.  If the peace was secured in the Sunni triangle, there would be few Sunni insurgents left to wreak violence in and around Baghdad.

The Shia militia are perhaps even more important than the Sunni or even al Qaeda, and whether peace can be won by political means is a salient question.  I hold that peace can be won with the Shia, but only if their power broker — Iran — has been muzzled.  The Shia in Iraq will seek peace and stability if they see Iran on the ropes, politically and militarily.

Leaving behind the question of the propriety of the war in Iraq for a moment and thinking critically about unintended consequences of our presence in Iraq, there is a sobering and statement in Time, July 24, 2006, by Joe Klein (The Iran Factor):

The U.S. “has been Iran’s very best friend,” a diplomat from a predominantly Sunni nation told me recently.  “You have eliminated its enemies, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.  You have even reduced yourselves as a threat to Iran because you have spent so much blood and treasure in Iraq.”

The Shia in Iraq are closely connected to Iran as I have pointed out in my posts, but there is very interesting and troubling assessment of Iranian and Iraqi Shia capabilities that was published on July 21, 2206, by Patrick Lang in the Christian Science Monitor, entitled The vulnerable line of supply to U.S. troops in Iraq.  In it, he observes:

American troops all over central and northern Iraq are supplied with fuel, food, and ammunition by truck convoy from a supply base hundreds of miles away in Kuwait. All but a small amount of our soldiers’ supplies come into the country over roads that pass through the Shiite-dominated south of Iraq.

Until now the Shiite Arabs of Iraq have been told by their leaders to leave American forces alone. But an escalation of tensions between Iran and the US could change that overnight. Moreover, the ever-increasing violence of the civil war in Iraq can change the alignment of forces there unexpectedly.

Southern Iraq is thoroughly infiltrated by Iranian special operations forces working with Shiite militias, such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades. Hostilities between Iran and the United States or a change in attitude toward US forces on the part of the Baghdad government could quickly turn the supply roads into a “shooting gallery” 400 to 800 miles long.

At present, the convoys of trucks supplying our forces in Iraq are driven by civilians – either South Asians or Turks. If the route is indeed turned into a shooting gallery, these civilian truck drivers would not persist or would require a heavier escort by the US military.

It might then be necessary to “fight” the trucks through ambushes on the roads. This is a daunting possibility. Trucks loaded with supplies are defenseless against many armaments, such as rocket-propelled grenades, small arms, and improvised explosive devices. A long, linear target such as a convoy of trucks is very hard to defend against irregulars operating in and around their own towns.

The volume of “throughput” would probably be seriously lessened in such a situation. A reduction in supplies would inevitably affect operational capability. This might lead to a downward spiral of potential against the insurgents and the militias. This would be very dangerous for our forces.

Final victory in Iraq will be a function of the degree to which we muzzle Iran.  In the mean time, let’s hope that this assessment exaggerates the danger Iran poses, but I fear that it is spot on.  This is made darker still with the newfound respect the U.S. military has for the Iranian military.


You are currently reading "Iran, Supply Lines, and the Power of the Shia in Iraq", entry #297 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iran,Iraq,War & Warfare,Weapons and Tactics and was published September 25th, 2006 by Herschel Smith.

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