It was just one year after Iraq’s Saddam Hussein attacked Iran, seeking to capitalize on the instability following Iran’s revolution a year earlier. Iran was deeply focused on repelling an Iraqi attack.
Why, then, establish a Jerusalem army? Because in the hearts of many of Iran’s revolutionaries, fighting an offensive war against Iraq was a necessary step toward the real prize: taking Jerusalem.
“The irgc argued that the ‘greater victory’ of delivering Jerusalem from Israeli occupation could be achieved only after the ‘lesser victory’ of defeating Saddam Hussein,” writes Afshon Ostovar in his 2016 book Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. “Iraq became seen as both the literal and figurative gateway to Jerusalem and the first step toward the emancipation of Muslim societies.” A popular slogan during the war on Iraq was “the path to Jerusalem runs through Karbala,” the location of Shiite holy places just south of Baghdad.
This was the cause that burned in Iranian hearts as they waged war on Iraq for eight long years during the 1980s. Even after something like a million souls perished and the war ended inconclusively, that ambition did not die: Iraq, then Jerusalem.
It has taken decades, but recent events show Iran is finally realizing the first part of this long-held mission—and proceeding to the next.
Signs of Victory
In early March, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and a huge delegation began a three-day state visit to Baghdad. This was Rouhani’s first trip to Iraq’s capital since he became president in 2013. It signaled Iran’s victory over the United States for influence in post-Saddam Iraq.
Photos of Rouhani’s trip showed a long table in meetings with Iraqi officials, at least 16 men present on each side. They were signing a batch of agreements aimed at cementing an alliance.
Read more: Watch Jerusalem
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