Over the past seven years, while most of the Middle East was unstable or even at war, Iran has been doing well by comparison. In Yemen, it has supported the Houthi rebels in their war against the regime and Saudi forces, tying up the resources of the Saudis, one of Iran’s historical rivals. In Syria, it has propped up the regime of Bashar Assad in a civil war that recently dragged in neighboring power Turkey. It has massive military and political influence in Lebanon via its proxy group Hezbollah.
All told, Iran operates a Shiite foreign legion that over the years has trained 200,000 fighters in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. And one part of that foreign legion – the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq – has helped provide Iran with the influence in neighboring Iraq that makes much of the rest of its strategy feasible. The militias of the PMF all but control northern Iraq, which Iran has transformed into a land bridge to supply its other proxy groups in