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Iran’s Expanding Sphere of Influence: Iranian T-72 Tanks in Iraq

March 13, 2015

By Oryx


Iraq’s fight against the fighters of the Islamic State is one not only fought by Iraq’s Armed Forces and the Peshmerga, but also by an increasing number of Shiite militias, most of which receive extensive support from Iran. Iraq’s equivalent of the Lebanese Hizbullah movement, Kata’ib Hizbullah, is without a doubt the strongest and most influential of all Shiite militias currently present in Iraq. This has come to be so mostly thanks to Iranian funding, lethal aid and the presence of Iranian advisors on the ground.

Iran has supplied these militias with anything from 12.7mm AM.50 anti-materiel rifles, 40mm Nasir grenade launchers, Safir jeeps equipped with 107mm multiple rocket launchers (MRLs), recoilless rifles and even 122mm HM-20 MRLs, all of which produced in Iran. The amount and type of weaponry supplied depends on the size of the militias in question.

However, the rumoured presence of Iranian tanks with militias in Iraq could until now not be confirmed. These rumours quickly made their way around the world each time any vehicle with tracks on a tank transporter driving close to the Western border of Iran was sighted. Now photograpic evidence has finally arisen of Iranian tanks that have joined the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq, and are busy driving their fighters out of the town of Tikrit.


Seen above is an Iranian T-72S, clearly distinguishable from Iraq’s own T-72 ‘Urals’ and T-72M1s by the presence of attachments allowing for the installment of 155 Kontakt-1 explosive reactive armour blocks (ERA), all surprisingly missing on this example, and the smoke grenade launchers on the side of the turret instead on the front as seen with the T-72M1.

While one could argue that this particular T-72S could have been part of a recently struck arms deal between Iraq and Russia that has not been uncovered, yet the Iranian camouflage pattern on the tank leaves no doubt about the true origin of the tank. For comparison, an Iranian T-72S (with ERA titles) during a parade can be seen below.


It is currently unknown if the T-72S pictured near Tikrit is crewed by Iranians and part of Kata’ib Hizbullah’s arsenal, or if it is actually in service with the Iraqi Army. Kata’ib Hizbullah is known to operate just one tank, an M1 Abrams which was left behind by the Iraqi Army, and thus lacks the heavy fire-support essential for close combat fighting in towns such as Tikrit. Iran supplying a limited amount of T-72s drawn from Iranian army or Revolutionary Guard stocks makes perfect sense in this light.

Whatever effect they may have on the ultimate course of the war, it is certain that the influence of the Iran on conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere is not to be underestimated. With Iran now using its military industry to exert influence in a host of Middle Eastern nations ranging from Iraq, Syria and Yemen to even Libya, its intentions of expanding its sphere of influence become ever more clear, and it’s certain Iran is not to be underestimated when devising policies on the Middle East.


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  1. Geoffrey

    Well, If the US kept their promise and provided the weapons Iraq had already paid for they wouldn’t need to get their weapons from Iran..

    Also, the Russians told their allies Belarus and Iran to provide Iraq with their second-hand weapons fast and they would provide new ones for them. Iraq is in a War, wherever they can get weapons they will. America and it’s coalition turned out to be wolves in sheeps clothing.

    • rudy

      “provide wepons they already paid for”. What use are these US weapons if your’re going to run away at the first sight of the enemy!!!!! Brand new humvee’s and M1 tanks left on the road , a soon as they saw the enemy.M1 tanks need aviation type fuel so the enemy just destroyed them instead of capturing them.

  2. Jack

    I completely agree with previous comment by Geoffrey. Also I like to add, this article is scaremongering at best. All countries should be thankful of Iran, the only true helping hand in Iraq. US seems to be dropping off more weapons to ISIS than Iraqi army.

  3. Mike

    There are news that US fighters targetted and killed about 50 Iraqi army officers in western Iraq yesterday!!

    What the US is doing there, only god knows.

  4. What a joke!

    What an interesting choice(or not!)of subjects from the good fellows at Bellingcat!And an even more interesting choice of words describing those subjects!So,Iran is expanding it’s sphere of influence”when supplying weapons to Iraq,a neighbouring country with no small percentage of Shia population.On the other hand,US’s bombing at will in Iraq(and elsewhere),is not even considered as a subject,obviously because one can not question nature…

  5. ibrahim

    Thanks to U.S. they let the Iraqis down they have no choice but to seek for weapons from any other source Iran or even Satan.

  6. Joe

    For the less expert arms identifiers, are there any outside-identifiers (aside from removable camo) that would help us distinguish an Iranian T72S from an ex-Soviet bloc T72B? You note grenade launchers mounted on the side of the turret, and attachment points for Kontakt1, as clearly distinguishing the Iranian T72S from Iraq’s T72 Urals/M1s, but is there anything that could help us spot these beasts in a more tank-rich environment, say Syria, a place full of Kontakt1-, side-mounted-grenade-launcher T72B’s? Or are the Iranian T72s’ too close of a copy to make a positive ID based on a photo taken from afar? Thanks for the great post.


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