An Islamic State sniper gunned down a general in Iran’s Qods Force who was advising Iraqi troops and Shiite militias in the battleground city of Samarra in central Iraq.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) announced that Brigadier General Hamid Taqavi was “martyred” while serving in Samara, close to the “shrine of Imam Hassan Askari” on Dec. 27, 2014, Jahan News, a hard-line Iranian media outlet reported. Taqavi was killed by an Islamic State “sniper,” ABNA noted.
Taqavi served as an “adviser to the [Iraqi] Army and the popular mobilization of the Iraqi people,” a reference to the Shiite militias that fight alongside the Iraqi military. Iran’s Qods Force, the expeditionary special operations arm of the IRGC, is tasked with supporting the Iraqi military and Shiite militias, including the Badr Brigade, Hezbollah Brigades, Asaib al Haq (League of the Righteous), and Muqtada al Sadr’s Promised Day Brigade (or Peace Brigade). The Shiite militias have been instrumental in reinforcing beleaguered and demoralized Iraqi forces, and have helped retake some areas in Iraq, including Jurf al Sakhar and Amerli.
The IRGC said that Taqavi was “one of the commanders of the Ramazan Base, during the sacred defense,” of Iran during the Iran-Iraqi war from 1980-88. The Ramazan Base “was important” to the the Iranians, said Ali Alfoneh, a Senior Fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies who specializes on Iran.
“During the war with Iraq, they [the Iranians] directed operations behind enemy lines” in Iraq from the Ramazan Base, Alfoneh said.
Samarra is a key front in Iraq’s current war against the Islamic State, and Iran has placed considerable importance on supporting Iraq’s military and the Shiite militias operating there. Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Qods Force, has been spotted in Samarra directing military operations. As recently as last month, he was photographed alongside Shiite militiamen in Samarra. The Qods Force commander has also been spotted on other key fronts as Shiite militias continue to battle the Islamic State.
The Al Askari shrine in Samarra is one of the most important in Shiite Islam, and its fall to the Islamic State would be a major blow to Iran. Additionally, Samarra is the lynchpin in securing the northern Baghdad Belt. The Islamic State seeks to control the city and others north of Baghdad in order to encircle the capital and lay siege to the Shiite-led government. [For more details on the jihadist group’s strategy in Iraq, see LWJ report, ISIS, allies reviving ‘Baghdad belts’ battle plan.]
The Islamic State has been active in Samarra and in towns north and south of the city. Two weeks ago, the jihadist group routed a Hezbollah Brigades unit near the towns of Yathrib and Tal Gold, just south of Samarra. And in the first week of December, an Islamic State unit overran a Badr Brigade force near Samarra.