The new commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps is struggling to exert control over Tehran's proxies, a top US general said on Thursday, giving warning that it was only a matter of time before an Iran-backed militia kills Americans in Iraq.
Esmail Qaani took over as head of the IRGC's elite Quds Force following the US assassination of his predecessor Qassem Suleimani in 2020, but he “does not exercise the same degree of control over Iranian-aligned militia groups”, Gen Frank McKenzie, head of the US military's Central Command, told the Middle East Institute.
This is increasingly the case in places like Iraq, where Gen McKenzie argued Iran could be dragged into a wider confrontation with the US as Tehran-backed militias carry out attacks on US forces.
“Tehran is well aware of our red lines [in Iraq], yet the evidence is also clear that many of these militia groups are trying in earnest to kill Americans with these attacks. Sooner or later, it’s almost inevitable that they will succeed, and Iran will provoke precisely what it seeks to avoid,” he said.
He called Iran a “main threat” and noted that the regime relies “on proxies to do its dirty work, by funnelling them arms and other resources".
The war in Yemen has dragged on for more than seven years largely because of Iran's support of the Houthi rebels, he added.
“As we have recently seen with their complex attacks on the UAE, not to mention their persistent campaign against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Houthis are less interested than Iran in waging a limited war,” he said.
“Rather, they will recklessly use whatever capabilities that Iran puts in their hands in pursuit of victory, regardless of the risk to human life.”
The US commander accused the Houthis and Iran of “using the population of the southern Arabian peninsula as human lab rats and in the Yemeni civil war as an inhuman experiment in modern war".
He listed ballistic missiles, land-attack cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles as some of the weaponry that Iran provides to the Houthis.
The four-star general urged an integrated, regional strategy that includes Israel to counter the threat.
“Centcom is prepared for all contingencies,” he said, and added that Iran is weighing various moves including “everything from de-escalation and diplomatic normalisation to ramping up attacks against coalition forces".
While arguing that de-escalation and normalisation serve Iran best, Gen McKenzie expressed doubt Tehran would take such a path.
“Tehran has an established habit, ordering a little bit of everything on the menu, including incompatible courses that should never be paired,” the general said.