Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force Esmail Qaani arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday in an unannounced visit, two days after the Guards claimed responsibility for ballistic missile attacks against Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.
Iran said the barrage was retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed two members of the Guards earlier this month. Iranian state media said the Guards had launched the attack against Israeli "strategic centers" in Erbil.
Qaani was likely in Baghdad to present "evidence" to back the Iranian claims of alleged Israeli activity in Kurdistan. He will also attempt to politically exploit the attack to help unify Shiite ranks in Iraq amid the sharp division between the Sadrist movement, led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and the pro-Iran Coordination Framework.
Qaani will attempt to persuade Sadr that Israeli Mossad agents were operating in Erbil. This will force the cleric to abandon his alliance with the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), headed by Masoud Barzani, and Sunni parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi and Khamis Khanjar.
Should he succeed, Qaani would have thrown a wrench in Sadr's plans for a majority coalition that shuts out Tehran from Iraqi politics.
So far, Qaani's frequent visits to Iraq after the October parliamentary elections have failed to unify Shiite ranks. In fact, Tehran's role appears to have waned, while Turkey has succeeded in uniting Sunni factions.
Despite its pressure, Iran has failed in thwarting the divisions among Shiite groups and it has failed in countering Sadr's plan for a majority coalition and government that shuns foreign meddling, namely from Iran and the United States.
The Erbil attack is also seen as a message to Barzani, whom Tehran blames for dividing Shiites.
Ultimately, Iran believes that its plans in Iraq can only be achieved by breaking up Sadr's alliance with the KDP and Sunnis. It would rather that all Shiites unite in one bloc, while it could care less if the Sunnis and Kurds unite or remain divided.
Sadr has formed a committee with Barzani to verify Iran's claims about Erbil.
Outgoing Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi had headed to the Kurdish capital on Monday to inspect the damage. He urged Iran to present evidence of its claims, a sign that he has sided with Sadr in the entire affair.