Iran’s Quds Force is in charge of the (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) IRGC’s international activities and specializes in guerrilla warfare and armed insurgency.
In 2020, IRGC’s Quds commander Qasim Soleiman became the target of a US drone strike outside Baghdad International airport. The killing of General Soleimani marked a major escalation in the U.S. conflict with Iran. However, the U.S.’ history with Iran’s Quds Force goes all the way back to the Iranian Revolution of 1979 under Ayatullah Ruhullah Khomeini.
The IRGC was a formed as volunteer force during Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980 which Iranian call “Sacred Defense”. The IRGC Quds force is named after Quds City in Occupied Palestine. Quds means Jerusalem, and with the objective to see their banners flying over Jerusalem. Many believe that Iran has used its Quds force to gain influence beyond its borders, deter enemies from attacking Iran itself, and disrupt the American plans in the Middle East.
So the Quds Force is the arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran that is charged with exporting the revolution. The Quds Force doesn’t have combat units of its own. It doesn’t put brigades or divisions on the ground. It works to train, raise, recruit, train and equip and then lead proxies who do most of the fighting.
In the 1980s, the IRGC deployed forces abroad to cultivate one of its first allied militias, the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah. Hezbollah, then known as the Islamic Jihad Organization, took credit for the 1983 and 1984 bombings of the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut.
After 1995, Iran-Iraq War veteran Commander Qasem Soleimani became the head of the Quds Force. After the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Soleimani built up opposition forces in Iraq and across the Middle East by training and arming militia groups with an aim to resist US forces in Iraq.
Currently, Quds forces are engaged along many fronts. It is supporting Yemen’s Anasrullah fighters against the Saudi-led coalition, Syrian Bashar-Al Assad against ISIS and opposition groups. It has a strong connection with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine.
Quds force has about 10,000 to 20,000 members Fatemiyoun Brigade drawn from Shia Afghan refugees in Iran, Zainebiyoun Brigade from Pakistani Shias, and al–Mukhtar Brigades from Bahrain.
The US administration under President Trump blamed Iran-backed militias that were responsible for the deaths of 608 U.S. troops in Iraq between 2003 and 2011. The U.S. issued sanctions against Quds Force leaders, including late General Soleimani and also declared the IRGC a terrorist organization (FTO) in 2019.
Currently, the US and its European allies with UNSC permanent members are negotiating the re-entry of Iran into the JCPOA nuclear agreement of 2015, an agreement signed under the Obama administration and abandoned by the Trump administration in 2018.
Both sides are currently stuck on the removal of Iran’s IRGC from the FTO list which Iranian consider necessary while the US under tremendous pressure from its allies in the Middle East region is hesitant to do.