Iraqi politicians were thinking this too, yet the only thing they did that summer was clash over who would be prime minister and speaker, even as IS was at the gates of the capital. As there was no dependable army, the only thought many had in mind was that the United States would intervene and put an end to IS’ onslaught. Iran was not part of the calculations amid all the reports about it being overwhelmed by the Syrian crisis.
Nothing could have saved the Iraqis but ground forces, but the only real such forces were Iranian-backed Shiite armed groups who once fought the US occupation. It was these groups that started defending areas around Baghdad and in both Diyala and Salahuddin provinces while the remnants of the army were withdrawing or even fleeing.
In parallel, the unexpected happened: The commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, entered Iraq along with a group of aides; these came not only from Iran, but from Lebanon too. Soon afterward, the highest Shiite religious authority in the country, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a game-changing fatwa, calling on people to fight IS. The last time such an authority issued a religious edict to that effect was in 1920 during the Iraqi revolt against the British.
But the Iraqis didn’t need fighters; the number of volunteers, according to official data, exceeded hundreds of thousands. What the country really needed at that time was proper middle and senior management: This is the role that the Iranian Quds Force and Hezbollah commanders played. Most of the forces on the ground were either rivals or had previously defected from one another; as such, hostility between them ran high.