“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” as they say. The old adage seems to be getting some recognition with the recent announcement that Ayatollah Khomeini has given the OK for the former Quds force commander Suleimani to coordinate with U.S. military commanders against the Islamic State. As of this writing, the State Department has denied that the U.S. will be officially coordinating with the Iranians to counter the threat and Iran has rejected an invitation from France to join in on a international summit, an invitation which was discouraged by Secretary of State John Kerry.
But is this the best policy? Should the U.S. consider working with Iran against the Islamic State?
There are two very clear arguments. On the one hand, there’s the logic of the famous adage; on the other, those who would argue that working with Iran could create a litany of diplomatic and security problems in the future.
Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council has promoted the idea of cooperating with Iran in a supposed bid for regional stability. Interestingly enough, Sen. Lindsay Graham, a well known foreign policy hawk, seemed to give the idea some consideration in June of this year while being interviewed on CNN’s State of the Union. On the other end of the spectrum, Sen. Graham’s friend and legislative ally Sen. John McCain was quick to dismiss the idea, citing the strategic and diplomatic concerns that such an agreement could create.
The idea in and of itself is controversial, but in reality, the U.S. is indirectly working with Iran in some aspects already. In late August, the U.S. coordinated airstrikes with a local Iranian-backed Shia Turkmen groups in the Iraqi town of Amirli in order to break the Islamic State’s 82-day siege of the town. It has been no secret that Republican Guard advisors have been aiding these groups both with arms and artillery strikes, the addition of Suleimani as a high profile figure in Baghdad has only crystallized the Iranian influence both on the ground and in the tumultuous central government.
The short term usefulness of coordinating with Iran may be tempting to U.S. leadership. The White House has been quick to mention in every speech and press release on Iraq that there will be limited American presence on the ground. Allowing the Quds force to organize and fight the ground war against the Islamic State with Shia militiamen allows President Obama the ability to suppress IS and stick (relatively) to his age-old “no boots on the ground” talking point. He could essentially have his cake and eat it too — or so one would think.
Iran has sought increased regional influence in the Middle East since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, and the majority Shia population of Iraq has always been the natural first step in their grand strategy. After a stalemate war with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, the chaotic aftermath of the Iraqi invasion by the U.S. opened up an opportunity which the Iranians could not have hoped for in their wildest of dreams. The sectarian violence between the Shia and Sunni gave them the opportunity to support Shia militias, and now the advent of the Islamic State as a Sunni perpetrator of violence against the Shia population has only given them more opportunity to become a major influence.
As if this were not enough, the White House’s recent missteps in regard to the Islamic State threat have only added to the problem. The U.S. failure to properly arm the Syrian rebels early in their fight against Assad opened up the opportunity for Iran to step in and support the Assad government as the opposition grew more radical, leaving the U.S. with the choice between a murderous dictator and a radical rebel group, a clear no-win situation.
U.S. efforts in Iraq have not been much better. Air strike campaigns and funding of the Kurds and what is left of the Iraqi army is belated. What the U.S. policy makers failed to realize at the beginning of this conflict is that the groups resisting the Islamic State were going to get funded and armed one way or another, and unfortunately the Iranian Quds force beat them to the punch.
The Quds force exists for situations like the one we currently have in Iraq. They are the paramilitary branch of the Republican Guard that specializes in recruiting, arming, and supporting fundamentalist insurgency and terror groups, and they are very good at it. The track record speaks for itself: they are well known for supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon, they were the primary supporter of Shia insurgent groups during the U.S. invasion, and were directly responsible for providing the copper-lined IEDs that massacred American troops during the Iraqi insurgency. Their operatives have also been involved in Afghanistan since the new government was formed.
If the Quds force was to help vanquish the Islamic State, they will certainly maintain their ties with the Shia militia groups they have now been supporting for the better part of a decade. With a weakened Iraqi army and a government that has little reach outside of Baghdad, the power vacuum left by IS will be occupied by what could prove to be the next iteration of Iranian sponsored terrorism. Additionally, an Iranian backed Shia presence could actually create further destabilization in Iraq and replace the threat of IS with a civil war.
The negative implications from working with Iran would undoubtedly be evident as the nuclear negotiations continue. A successful defeat of IS adds legitimacy to the Iranian government. It gives them an example of regional leadership to point to during negotiations and in turn more clout to get what they want. Simply put, it would be difficult for the U.S. come November to turn on its heel from cooperation with Iran to tough negotiations on the crucial nuclear issue.
Cooperation with Iran against IS creates a stronger Iran, and while IS is certainly a pertinent and immediate threat, we should not forget about the long term threat the Iranian regime poses to both the U.S. and the Middle East.
Regionally, allowing the Iranians to control the Shia Crescent would almost certainly alarm Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. When and if the Iranians go nuclear, their potentially extensive influence over the region could kick of an arms race between Sunni and Shia countries. Given the Iranian specialty of creating terrorists abroad, destroying IS and allowing them to be replaced with Shia extremists may prove just as existential a threat to the U.S. Add in the fact that these same extremists could one day be provided with Iranian nuclear material, and the threat posed multiplies.
At this point, the Iranian influence with Shia militias is far too entrenched to completely remove. That said, there are steps the U.S. can take to mitigate future threats. The first, and most obvious, is to simply not cooperate with Iran against IS. Doing so will prevent Iran from gaining legitimacy and using this cooperation against the U.S. in nuclear negotiations.
Second, the U.S. must continue the funding and support for the groups fighting IS, particularly the Kurds and various Shia groups. The U.S. should assume command and control of the Shia groups, as well as providing and tracking any arms provided. Critics and isolationists would argue that those same weapons could one day be turned against us, and while that is a legitimate concern, failing to arm these groups only means they will be armed by someone else, thus giving the U.S. little to no control over these various militias and no ability to keep track of what they have.
Finally, the military advisors being sent to Iraq should get out of Baghdad and help coordinate with the groups directly. Doing so serves the dual purpose of effective coordination in attacks against IS as well as mitigating the influence of the Quds officers that currently do work with these groups hand in hand. Fortunately, President Obama has hinted toward a possibility of this direct interaction in his recent nationally televised speech, albeit a limited one.
Without applying a policy that looks beyond the immediate threat of the Islamic State, the U.S. runs the risk of replacing one short-term threat with a potentially worse one in a regionally powerful Iran. Failure to address and mitigate Iranian influence regarding the fight against IS will only lead to sectarian problems in Iraq, more clout for Iran at the negotiating table, and increased tension across the Middle East.
Originally published at The Daily Caller at https://dailycaller.com/author/rread/
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