Iraq- Another Sphere of Iranian Influence?

Although I originally published this article in 2015 it may be used as a backdrop to the current relationship with Iran, the US and Europe.

Although there continues to be accounts of Iraqi security forces making increasing military gains against the Islamic State Group, many of the successful campaigns have been fought by a number of Shiite militias loyal to Tehran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and their Special Forces branch called the Quds Forces (alternatively spelt Qhods or Qods). It is also known that all forces, both Shiite and Sunni, are commanded and advised by Iranian officers and they report to Major General Qasem Soliemani of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Commander of Quds Forces.

Quds Forces

This is the Special Forces section of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard whose members are known for their military skills and commitment to the Islamic Revolution. This elite force is responsible for all extraterritorial operations and reports directly to the Supreme Commander of Iran, Ali Khamenei.

Although this is a covert force, well-placed commentators say Quds Forces consist of combatants, military trainers, those responsible for overseeing foreign assets, politics, sabotage and intelligence gathering. In 2004 Quds Forces Headquarters was moved to the Iranian- Iraq border to monitor events inside Iraq and it soon became clear that political instability, tribal friction and a breakdown in Iraq’s internal security capabilities made the country vulnerable to Iran’s superior military forces, subversion and political intimidation.

The steady advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant into Northern Iraq provided Tehran with the excuse to ‘assist’ Iraq in expelling these extremist insurgents. Initially, a small number of military advisors from Quds Forces provided military training and small arms to various Shiite Militia groups know to be friendly towards Iran, Iranian airstrikes on extremist positions soon followed which coincided with more Iranian forces and members of Hezbolloh training and advising an increasing number of militias.

As the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (later called Islamic State) made further advances across Iraq, communities throughout the country became aware of the mounting atrocities and recognised that government forces were unable to stop their advance. Due to this increasing threat from extremist insurgents, many of the tribal combatants came to the obvious conclusion they could not rely on the Iraqi Security Forces for their country’s defence and saw Iran as their only option. This allowed Iran to seize the opportunity to increase their military and political presence in Iraq. Consequently, Tehran can argue that not only was military intervention essential in order to secure their borders, this intervention was as a direct result of ‘popular’ demand from the Iraqi people!

Although Iranian involvement in Iraq is not reported by the state owned media, some Iraqi officials have been more forthcoming when speaking to the western media. On 23 March 2014, Iraq’s vice president Iyad Allawi told various journalists, including Sky News, “Iran’s role, doing what they are doing, and sending officers to fight and lead is not acceptable”. He also declared that Baghdad is becoming the capital of the Persian Empire.

Allawi also said “The strong Iranian presence in Iraq is not new, but just how visible it has become is quite staggering…”

Iraqi officials and members of Sunni communities continue to complain and express concerns about pictures of Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei being plastered on walls throughout the country.

“The posters of Khamenei sends shivers up my spine and there will be a high price to pay for Iranian involvement … The failure of this country means the failure of the whole region…” Allawi told western reporters.

The stability of the entire region now hangs in the balance as Iran increases its influence by filling Iraq’s political vacuum, and proving the countries’ security needs. There is a real danger that the whole or parts of Iraq will become another proxy state, an informal extension of the Persian Empire.

The unknown female war hero

On 2 September 2010 police were called to a small house in Torquay after local residents reported a strong smell coming from the property. After forcing their way into the house officers found the decomposed body of an 89-year-old female lying on the floor in one of the rooms and they estimated she had been dead for several weeks.

Door to door enquiries failed to identify the woman: no one knew her name, she did not appear to have friends, and nobody was seen visiting the house. The only time she was seen in the street was when she was feeding stray cats.

Whilst searching the house an officer found a photograph of two women dressed in British army uniforms which were taken during the war and they later found an old shoe box containing several medals including an MBE, the French Croix de Guerre, other medals and more photographs of the two women taken during the war.

It was several weeks before the police discovered the dead woman was Eileen Nearne and the photographs of the two young women dressed in British army uniforms was Eileen and her sister Jacqueline who had served as agents with the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The police and local community were further surprised to discover the elderly cat lover who had been ignored and went unnoticed in her community was also a war hero.

(Photographs found by police. Left Eileen, Right Jacqueline )

By the age of 22 Eileen was a trained clandestine wireless operator who had volunteered even after being warned her life expectancy, with a bit of luck, was about six weeks.

During the night of 2 March 1944, she arrived in France by Lysander aircraft at an isolated field and joined the Wizard circuit which specialised in sabotage operations and her job was to keep in touch with London.

It has always been acknowledged the work of wireless operators was the most dangerous job in SOE because the Germans had the technical capability to detect their signal and identify their location. Wireless operators were also aware they were in possession of important intelligence and if arrested they must expect to be tortured by the Gestapo and if they refused to talk, they would most likely be shot.  Consequently, survival meant being one step ahead of the German wireless detection teams by never transmitting from the same location and passing their messages as quickly as possible before moving to a safehouse some distance from where they had been transmitting.

During this dangerous game of cat and mouse where the Germans had all the advantages Eileen Nearne sent over 100 messages to London. According to Foot, SOE’s official historian, “she had transmitted a good deal of economic and military intelligence besides arranging for weapons, sabotage stores and other agents to be dropped by parachute. Eventually her transmissions were tracked down and she was arrested and handed to the Gestapo.

Her torture at Gestapo headquarters has been described as savage and intensive but she refused to talk and expected to be shot but instead was transported to the notorious Ravensbrück concentration camp. At Ravensbrück she came across other women from SOE who were in a pitiful state due to torture and neglect.

In early 1945 Eileen Nearne escaped and used her training to evade capture as she made her way through war-torn Germany in the hope of meeting up with allied forces.  After being stopped by the SS in keeping with her training she calmly informed them she was a French volunteer working in a Factory and was allowed to continue her journey. After reaching Leipzig a German priest hid her until the arrival of the US army.

After the war Eileen lived in London with her sister Jaqueline who was the only person she knew and trusted. Eileen and Jaqueline had always been close, and her sister greatly helped her cope with the psychological difficulties of dealing with the memories of her treatment by the Gestapo and the horrors of Ravensbrück. In 1982 Jaqueline died of cancer and Eileen moved to Torquay.

With no friends, traceable relatives and with insufficient money in her bank account, after her death the local council was going to pay for a cheap funeral and cremation but after news of Eileen Nearne’s distinguished war career came to the attention of the British Legion, they paid the funeral costs and among those who attended to show there respects  were members of the military and the Foreign Office.  

Before her death Eileen Nearne (Left) attending a memorial at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. Sitting to her right is Odette Churchill GC another SOE agent who refused to talk under torture and survived this death camp.

Her sister Jacqueline will be discussed in a later post.

Female SOE agents in France

In September 2014 I published this small article examining a few female agents working for the Special Operations Executive and this was the start of my four-years of research into SOE in wartime France which is due to be published in September 2019.

This may be read by following the link or reading/downloading the Pdf version.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/female-agents-soe-occupied-france-1940-1944-alan-malcher-ma/

Operation Banner: British Army in Northern Ireland

There is no doubt the British Army in Northern Ireland is one of the most controversial British campaigns in recent history. This article which I published a few years ago received mixed feelings but I was surprised by the many positive feedbacks I received from both sides of this divided community.

All PDF files may be read online or downloaded