The United States conducted an airstrike that not only took out the Iranian Quds Force (also known as Qods) commander General Qassem Soleimani, but also Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis the deputy head of the Iran-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

President Trump said that the United States decided to order the drone strike after they learned that Soleimani and the Iranians were plotting “imminent and sinister attacks” on Americans. He defined the strike as an act of deterrence rather than escalation. American reaction to the drone attack was split. 

In April, the United States designated the IRGC as a terrorist group. But the Quds Force had been designated as a terrorist group even before that. So, what is the Quds Force and what role does it play in Iranian force projection in the region?

In Iraq and Syria, Iran has relied more and more on proxy forces: militias that they train, equip and lead. This gives them plausible deniability in most actions. This form of what is now called asymmetric warfare is nothing more than the unconventional warfare that has been around seemingly forever. 

The Iranian military can’t go toe-to-toe militarily with its adversaries, so it relies on shadow war by proxy forces that can do their bidding. These forces gather intelligence, conduct guerrilla warfare, commit terrorist acts and subvert unfriendly governments under orders from Tehran. 

Quds Force is Tehran’s unconventional arm that operates outside the Iranian borders. Quds is known in Iran as Al-Quds. In Arabic, Al-Quds actually means Jerusalem, or literally translated, “The Holy One.” Their stated goal is to free Jerusalem from the Jews and to give it back to the Arabic people. 

Quds Force has ties to Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and several other terrorist organizations. It most recently lent help to Houthi terrorists in Yemen. In Iraq, Soleimani and Quds were directly responsible for the deaths of several hundred Americans as well as the wounding of thousands more. Soleimani and Quds brought to Iraq the means to build IEDs designed to defeat the United States.

According to a piece by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the IEDs constructed in Iraq showed: