Iran is not an Ally
Disturbing images and accounts of the Islamic State’s brutal onslaught in Iraq have become the source of outrage and concern worldwide, and states are frantically searching for a strategy to resolve the crisis caused by the rise of the extremist group.
President Barack Obama, who previously dismissed the group’s advances by comparing it to a JV team, has gone out of his way to authorize airstrikes against the group in Iraq. He recently affirmed expanding the offensive to Syria, and is seeking support from Congress and allies in NATO and the Middle-East region to fight the Islamic State.
Meanwhile, the Iranian regime has tried to take advantage of the confusion surrounding the ultimate solution to the crisis to pose as a potential game-changer in the conflict and restore its waning influence in Iraq after the ouster of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Javad Zarif, the regime’s foreign minister, vowed to help fight the Islamic State during his visit to Iraq. Also, Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian regime’s terrorist Quds Force, who usually keeps a low profile and avoids media attention, openly flaunted his presence in Amerli, northern Iraq, to take credit for breaking the Islamic State’s two-month siege against the Turkmen community living in the village. This all sets the stage for an unannounced invasion of Iraq by the Iranian regime under the pretext of pushing back the IS, the signs of which are becoming more evident with every passing day.
While fighting the IS is a necessary and righteous cause, an alignment with the Iranian regime -- which is by far a greater danger -- will prove to be a fatal error in neutralizing the immediate threat posed by the Islamic State and the more general threat of Islamic fundamentalism plaguing the Middle-East region. There are very distinct reasons that such an undertaking would only exacerbate an already chaotic situation and further lay waste to the lives of the people of the region, especially in Iraq.
For one thing, the mullahs ruling Tehran are notorious for their open and fervent export of terrorism abroad, especially in Iraq and Syria. Although its officials profess opposition to the Islamic State as a Sunni group, the Iranian regime has a previous record of cooperating with and sponsoring extremist groups of the supposedly rival Sunni sect (including the Islamic State and its precursor, Al-Qaeda in Iraq) to protect and expand its own interests in the region and across the globe. In fact, Iran has made use of the Islamic State -- or ISIS as it was formerly known -- to weaken the democratic opposition of the Assad regime in Syria.
In its “Country Report on Terrorism” published earlier this year, the U.S. State Department warned about the Iranian regime building a terror network across the globe. There are harrowing accounts of Iran-affiliated militia groups committing crimes no-less appalling -- if less publicized -- than those committed by the Islamic State, especially during sectarian conflict that engulfed Iraq in 2006. The full-blown conflagration that has wreaked havoc in Syria for the past three years and has cost the lives of nearly 200,000 people is a glaring example of the results of full intervention by the Iranian regime in a foreign conflict.
Moreover, if the Islamic State is dreaming of establishing a caliphate based on Islamic fundamentalism, the clerical regime ruling Iran has lived that dream for the past 35 years, and has gained a notorious reputation for its brutal record of human rights violation at home, with a record-breaking number of executions per capita and continued use of medieval punishments, which includes hanging, amputating limbs, gouging eyes, and stoning to death. Relying on this regime -- which has institutionalized violence and torture in the very structure of its rule -- to end violence elsewhere could only be described as a poor and naive choice.
Last but not least, the Islamic State owes in great part its rise in power to the very outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki himself, who previously ruled Iraq on behalf the Iranian regime. For the past eight years, Maliki adopted sectarian-oriented policies and zealously supported Iran’s interests in Iraq by suppressing Iranian dissidents and also marginalizing the Sunni minority in favor of his own Shiite sect. He thus inflamed ethnic tensions and plunged Iraq into an all-out crisis, creating a fertile ground for IS to flourish and sow the seeds of chaos and destruction.
The people of Iraq have already proven that they are able to counter the threat of groups like the IS. In 2006-07, the Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was mostly repelled by Sunni awakening groups. An inclusive government representative of all ethnic and religious divisions can very well set Iraq on the road to fight the IS and handle national security issues on its own. But this is an ultimate red line for the religious dictatorship ruling Iran, and the mullahs will do everything within their power to prevent such a government from becoming established in Baghdad.
The bottom line is you can’t count on an Islamic fundamentalist state like the Iranian regime to fight an Islamic fundamentalist group like the IS, and any short-lived tactical gains from casting one’s lot with the mullahs would be dwarfed by the disastrous strategic repercussions that would soon follow.
If you really want to achieve a durable solution in Iraq (and Syria) and root out the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, you must first address the situation in Iran, where the foundations of fundamentalism and extremism are rooted. The current regime ruling Iran has ever been the main source of instability in Iraq and elsewhere in the region, and unless it is overthrown and replaced by a peaceful and democratic government, any achievement in Iraq will be temporary and reversible. Supporting the long-standing, organized Iranian resistance movement and its cause for regime change in Iran would be a good start on the path to weaken the influence of the Iranian regime in the region.
If there’s a lesson to be drawn from the history of dealing with Iran, appeasing the mullahs will never stop their nefarious activities at home or abroad.
But supporting regime change in Iran by the democratic opposition will.
Amir Basiri is an Iranian human rights activist and supporter of democratic regime change in Iran.
Follow him on Twitter: @Amir_bas