Iran-ISIS relationship

[A program by VOA Persian, called Last Page, addresses the relationship between Iran and ISIS in Syria, and the fact that Iran has never actually engaged with ISIS forces before the recent missile attack.]

  MEHDI FALAHATI says: First, why didn’t you [Iranian regime] strike them [ISIS forces] from inside Syria? Second, why haven’t you targeted them during past 2 years? My colleague, Ali Javanmardi, is with us. Mr. Javanmardi, greeting to you. I have a clear, obvious question about all the confusion that is going on. Perhaps, you can answer it. Before this missile attack, has the Islamic Republic ever had a conflict with ISIS? If so, at what stage? In the war with ISIS, what has been the share of IRGC, defenders of the shrine, and any other groups of the Islamic Republic in Iraq and Syria so far?

ALI JAVANMARDI states: Not until this recent missile attack. Up to the moment that we are talking, all IRGC’s activities – not only in the framework of Quds Force, but also that of forces affiliated with the Islamic Republic such as Fatemiyon Division (Afghan Shiites), Pakistani Zeinabiyoun Brigade, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, and Iraqi Shiites – have all been levelled at Syrian opposition, other than ISIS. And even at stages when there still was Al-Nusra Front, other than Al-Nusra Front. It means that when the nature of Al-Nusra Front was transformed by Jolani – their commander and leader – to Fateh al-Sham Front in 2016, and they announced that they have no relation with al-Qaeda any longer, and were placed in the U.S. terrorist list, then they [IRGC] started to target them as well. But before that, they didn’t even target Al-Nusra Front either. Let me say it very clearly: for example, Gen. Ali Mansouri, Gen. Ahmad Gholami, Hossein Fadaee, Esmail Heidari – from senior, high-ranking commanders of IRGC to more than 2,200 members of IRGC, and not just Fatemiyoun, Zeinabiyoun, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq who were killed in Syria – were killed in certain geographic areas: Aleppo area, Homs area, Idlib area, Damascus suburbs, and Daraa.

ALI JAVANMARDI continues: When you look at these geographical areas, you realize that ISIS is not present in any of these areas. It means that ISIS is not in Idlib, ISIS is not in Homs, and it is not in Damascus suburbs where members of IRGC and brigadier-generals of IRGC were killed. In these areas, there are groups that are mainly from Free Army – meaning those officers who have separated from the Syrian Army and other groups that are known as Syrian opposition, or Syrian National Council, or national coalition groups that are against Bashar Assad’s government. It means that all IRGC’s wars – and Revolutionary Guards’ forces who were killed there – were fought against the opposition groups that were against Bashar Assad. And we don’t have a single person who, for example, was killed in Raqqa, not one person who was killed in a southern part of al-Hasakah, or in Abu Kamal, or not one person [who was killed] in that part of Deir ez-Zor that is occupied by ISIS. Mr. Falahati, it can be said that all those who were killed were defending Bashar Assad’s government, and were killed for destroying Syrian opposition groups – particularly those that are supported by the west.

MEHDI FALAHATI asks again: Let me say it clearly: it can be concluded that the Islamic Republic of Iran has never had any plans or any conflicts with ISIS – be it Quds Force or any other groups. And its two engagements with terrorists and their plans for striking them were basically against Al-Nusra Front. Is that right? If so, why do they strike Al-Nusra Front, but not ISIS?

ALI JAVANMARDI continues: Not just Al-Nusra Front, but now there is also Fateh al-Sham Front, too. Now that they have changed their nature, as Mohammad Jolani has already said. And there are other opposition groups – meaning those groups that are killed by ISIS as well. They too were fighting ISIS. All these battles are with so-called Takfiri groups – because the Islamic Republic call all these groups as Takfiris. These fights were all against them. There is not even one place, for example in Raqqa, where IRGC can say one of their members were killed. Mr. Falahati, you should look at the geography of places where IRGC members had been killed. None of them was killed in places or regions where ISIS is present. And apart from that, ISIS has never announced in its official statements that they have had conflicts with IRGC, whereas ISIS official websites are active and every day they release reports about engagements, the bombing of coalition’s aircraft, and any of their own engagements.

MEHDI FALAHATI asks: Well, ISIS is engaged with Al-Nusra Front, right? They have conflicts with each other as rivals or enemies, right?

ALI JAVANMARDI responds: Absolutely right.

MEHDI FALAHATI says: Now, the Islamic Republic strikes Al-Nusra Front, but not ISIS.

ALI JAVANMARDI confirms: Not just Al-Nusra Front, but other opposition forces as well.

MEHDI FALAHATI: I know. I mean…

ALI JAVANMARDI explains: So far, apart from this missile attack, Islamic Republic has never had any confrontations with ISIS or against the regions that are occupied by ISIS. And there is not a single report of the Islamic Republic striking Raqqa, or the southern part of Al-Hasakah, or Abu Kamal– places where ISIS is. The places that are occupied by ISIS.

MEHDI FALAHATI concluding: And you are making an important point: the Islamic Republic calls all terrorist Sunnite groups as Takfiris. And when there is a military engagement, they say Takfiris were killed and perished. But it doesn’t distinguish between ISIS and other groups. And they particularly talk about Al-Nusra Front, because the terrorists that they say they have arrested here and there [in Iran] or in Chabahar were all related to Al-Nusra Front. And just like that, they say they have arrested Takfiris.