On December 29, 2014, Iran held a funeral for Brig. Gen. Hamid Taqavi, a senior Revolutionary Guards commander who was killed in the Iraqi town of Samarra, home to a Shiite shrine. The Revolutionary Guards did not detail the scope of Taqavi's role in Iraq. But he was reportedly the highest-ranking Iranian military officer to be killed in Iraq since the 1980s.
The general's death highlights Iran’s expanding role in Iraq since ISIS - also known as ISIL, Daesh, or the Islamic State - seized large swaths of Iraqi territory in June 2014. Iran is a firm ally of Iraq’s central government. After ISIS's advance, Iran sent military advisers to Baghdad and ramped up support for Shiite and Kurdish militias trying to push back extremists on the ground. Iranian officials denied sending combat troops to Iraq, and they have been critical of foreign intervention in the Iraq crisis. On June 14, President Hassan Rouhani said “Iran has never dispatched any forces to Iraq and it is very unlikely it will ever happen.” But he noted that the fall of Shiite holy sites in Karbala and Najaf to extremists would constitute a red line. Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said in August that “if something like this happens, there will be no limit to our operations.”
In late 2014, evidence of Iran’s evolving strategy in Iraq mounted. In September, photos began to surface of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Guards' elite Quds force, on the ground in Iraq. In late November, Iran bombed ISIS targets in Diyala, Iraq using American-made F4 Phantom jets, likely sold to Iran before the 1979 revolution. Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour confirmed on December 5 that the strikes had taken place, but denied any cooperation with the United States. “We will not allow Iraq to descend to the level of Syria,” he said. Since June, Iran has sent elite units, more than 1,000 military advisers, and one billion dollars in military aid to Iraq, according to a senior cleric quoted by the Washington Post.
The following are the most important quotes by Iranian and Iraqi officials on ISIS in 2014.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
“We are strongly against the interference of the US and others in Iraq’s internal affairs and do not approve of it.”
— June 22, 2014 at a meeting with judiciary officials
"We believe that the Iraqi nation and government, particularly the country's youths, are capable of overcoming terrorists and establishing security and there is no need for the presence of foreigners."
President Hassan Rouhani
“Iran has never dispatched any forces to Iraq and it is very unlikely it will ever happen.”
“When we say the red line we mean the red line. It means we will not allow Baghdad to be occupied by the terrorists or the religious sites such as Karbala or Najaf be occupied by the terrorists.”
“We are cooperating and working... with the Iraqi government and with the Kurdish government in order to repel this very serious, atrocious group. But we do not believe that they need the presence of Iranian soldiers in order to do this task.”
— Aug. 24, 2014 in a press conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari
“Americans are very aware that the country that prevented the [Baghdad] government from falling was Iran. Iran’s role has been undeniable.”
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has been supporting the Iraqi nation and army in fighting terrorists since the beginning, and will continue this approach and will not withhold any support from the Iraqi nation.”
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
“The Islamic Republic of Iran realized the danger of violence and extremism in Iraq since the very first day and stood by the Iraqi nation, and we will stand by the Iraqi people including Shias, Sunnis, Kurds and Arabs until the end of [their] fight against extremism and terror.
“Today, the world has understood the reality that the first country to rush to the help of the Iraqi people in the battle against extremism and terror was the Islamic Republic of Iran, which countered these common threats.”
— Dec. 7, 2014 in a joint press conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari
Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour
"We will not allow conditions in Iraq to descend to the level of Syria, which has been created by foreign players.”
“We are taking our security actions at the request of the Iraqi government. On the other hand, we are assisting the Kurds in the north, our friends over there, and although there is some differentiation between the Kurdish perspective and the Iraqi government, we can make an arrangement according to both their interests."
"This is only an advisory presence [in Iraq]. There is no need to send Iranian troops to Iraq. There are sufficient Iraqi and Kurdish troops there."
— Dec. 5, according to the press
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani
“The Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are our friends [in Iraq]. We have always insisted that all ethnic groups must have active and constructive participation in Iraq's power structure".
— June 21, 2014 according to Parliament’s website
Defense Minister Gen. Hossein Dehghan
“We are hopeful that the trend of liberation of occupied parts of Iraq from the stain of the terrorists will continue with the same current strength and seriousness,"
— Dec. 29, 2014, in a meeting with Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al Obeidi
Revolutionary Guards Corps Commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari
“It is the opinion of the Commander-in-Chief that no one should aid countries like Syria and Iraq unless the work is limited counselling and advising. The people and governments of these countries can overcome their problems without the aid of any country.”
— June 24, 2014 at a ceremony for martyrs of the 1980-1988 war with Iraq
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli
“One day they brought news that there is a possibility that Karbala and Najaf would fall [cities holy to Shiites]. At that session, the president said that this is our red line and if something like this happens there will be no limit to our operations.”
— Aug. 25, 2014 according to the press (translation via Al-Monitor)
Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian
“We supply Baghdad with necessary consultations but we have no intervention in the country.”
— June 16, 2014 according to Tasnim news agency
Prime Minister Haider al Abadi
“When Baghdad was threatened, the Iranians did not hesitate to help us, and did not hesitate to help the Kurds when Erbil was threatened.”
"[The Iranians were] unlike the Americans, who hesitated to help us when Baghdad was in danger, and hesitated to help our security forces.”
— Dec. 3, 2014 according to the press
“Choosing Iran as my first destination after taking office indicates the depth of ties [between Iraq and Iran.”
“Terrorism is a threat to all regional countries, and we are sure Iran will stand by us.”
— Oct. 21, 2014 according to the press
Interior Minister Mohamed Salem al Ghabban
“Iran is not only a neighboring country, but also a friendly country and strategic ally for Iraq.”
— Oct. 27, 2014 according to the press
Ambassador to Tehran Mohammad Majid al Sheikh
“Iraq doesn’t need any country neither for weapons nor for the military forces at all; hence, I emphasize that neither General [Qassem] Soleimani nor any other (Iranian) figure is in Iraq.”— June 24, 2014, according to press