Under the guise of helping liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State, Iranian forces are advancing Tehran’s plan to establish a corridor between Iran and the Mediterranean, The Observer reported Sunday.
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According to the report, Shi'ite militias loyal to Tehran will not take part in the fighting to liberate Mosul, but will be stationed to the west, where they will block ISIS attempts to flee to their Syrian stronghold of Raqqa. From there, the militia fighters will be able to move ahead Tehran’s secret project of forging a path to the Mediterranean through Iraq and Syria.
Forces in Iraq are preparing for the retaking of Mosul from ISIS; the United States has announced it was committing 600 more soldiers to Iraq for this purpose.
“They have been working extremely hard on this,” The Observer quotes a senior European official as saying. “This is a matter of pride for them on one hand and pragmatism on the other. They will be able to move people and supplies between the Mediterranean and Tehran whenever they want, and they will do so along safe routes that are secured by their people, or their proxies.”
Over the past four months, The Observer has interviewed senior local officials in Iraq and local inhabitants in northern Syria, who said that the corridor to the Mediterranean has been slowly evolving since 2014. It extends from Tehran to the Kurdish region in the north and from there to the Kurdish region in northeastern Syria, to Aleppo in the west and ends at the port of Latakia.
The plan has been coordinated between senior security officials in Tehran, Baghdad and Damascus, under the noses of regional governments, and has aroused suspicion only in the past few weeks. Turkey opposes the plan because of apparent connections between Tehran and the PKK, the Kurdish workers’ party.
Officials close to the commander of the Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Qassem Suleimani, said he wants Iran to emerge from the war with an advantage. “If we lose Syria, we lose Tehran,” The Observer quoted Suleimani as saying in 2014 in a private conversation, adding: “We will turn all this chaos into an opportunity.”
The route passes through areas under the control of the Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG. “Iran thinks it has them where it wants them now,” said the European official, referring to the militias. “I’m not sure it has gauged the Turks correctly, though,” he added.