Photos appearing to show the leader of Iran‘s powerful Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, liaising with Iraqi authorities near Baghdad have prompted speculation — and concern — over the role Iran and its proxies intend to play in driving ISIS out of Mosul and Fallujah.

Soleimani’s presence in Iraq amid two major counter-ISIS offensives — in Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad, and in Mosul, further north — has unnerved those familiar with Iran’s campaign to cultivate influence in the region through Shiite proxy militias, whose presence in Sunni-majority areas could provoke sectarian violence.

“I can’t emphasize enough how alarmed I am over these photos of Soleimani,” Ali Khedery, the longest continuously serving US official in Iraq, told Business Insider in an interview. “Iran has a formal campaign of cultivating Shiite proxies, and those proxies have now been put on the Iraqi government’s payroll in the form of the PMU.”

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Image courtesy of Reuters