US Embracement of Iran Will Only Help the Islamic State
Tue, November 11, 2014
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (r) and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (l) shake hands as EU envoy Catherine Ashton and Oman Foreign Minister Yussef bin Alawi watch. Zarif began talks with Kerry and Ashton in Oman on Nov.9, 2014 to end a standoff over Tehran's nuclear program. (Photo: © Reuters)
As the November 24 deadline for a deal with Iran looms, President Obama wrote a secret letter to Supreme Leader Khamenei reportedly suggesting a common bond against the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS or ISIL).
The unpublished letter reportedly offered cooperation with Iran against ISIS if a nuclear deal is reached. Secretary of State Kerry said this is incorrect and that the nuclear negotiations are being treated as a wholly independent issue.
The evidence supports Kerry, as Iran publicly rejected cooperation with the U.S. against ISIS in September. There has already been some level of indirect coordination, as U.S. airstrikes assisted Iraqi forces and two Iranian-sponsored militias, Asaib Al-Haq and the Hezbollah Brigades, in breaking the ISIS siege of Amerli.
President Obama similarly said the U.S. is not coordinating with Iran and that the nuclear issue is not being paired with the ISIS issue. He would not confirm or deny the letter but said he told Iran, “Don’t mess with us, we’re not here to mess with you. We’re focused on our common enemy.”
The White House ruled out military cooperation and intelligence-sharing with Iran, raising the question of what kind of relationship the U.S. is seeking with Iran.
The letter underscores one of the biggest flaws in the U.S. strategy against ISIS: The failure to tackle Iranian-backed militias in Iraq whose activity fuels ISIS and other Sunni extremists and undermines the Iraqi government.
Iran needs ISIS and Al-Qaeda just as these organizations “need” Iran. Ayatollah Khamenei and his allies, the Syrian regime, have a strategy of setting up Al-Qaeda and ISIS as their opponents so they can purport themselves up as the “moderate” alternative.
That is why Iran helps Al-Qaeda, even permitting it to use Iranian territory to send fighters to Syria. And that’s why, as senior U.S. Treasury Department official David Cohen mentioned, the Assad regime buys oil from ISIS.
Yet, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, James Jeffrey, hit the nail on the head when he said Supreme Leader Khamenei “is basically a believer in a very similar Islamic philosophy to that of ISIS…It is a pan-Islamic force of revolutionary bent.”
If a new Amnesty International report about the radical Shiite militias did not identify the perpetrators, you’d think it was describing ISIS. The atrocities include ethnic cleansing, massacres at mosques, torture and Islamist supremacist rhetoric. Another expert writes that Shiite militiamen are importing foreign jihadists and even committing beheadings.
These Shiite militias are even known to execute captives after being paid a ransom. One Sunni father of nine was kidnapped in Baghdad in July. The family paid the ransom of $60,000, no easy task in a country with an average annual income of a little more than $6,000. Two weeks later, he was found dead, killed by a blow to his skull.
The only difference between ISIS and these Iran-linked militias is that the former is Sunni and the latter is Shiite.
Sunnis originally embraced or tolerated ISIS and previously Al-Qaeda and other Sunni militants because they came in the name of jihad against the radical Shiites. ISIS’ targeting of Sunni tribes, such as the recent massacre of 322 tribesmen, has resulted in Sunni cooperation with the Iraqi government but it will not last. Another Sunni jihadist group will arise as long as the Shiite militiamen keep murdering innocent Sunnis, as well as Christians.
Phillip Smyth, an expert who closely tracks these Iranian proxies, says there are over 50 such Shiite militias in Iraq. The four groups most responsible are all linked to Khamenei’s regime: Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq, the Badr Brigades, the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr and Kata’ib Hezbollah.
Smyth points out that these four groups all have the blood of American soldiers on their hands, killing at least 100 U.S. soldiers and up to 1,000 of the approximately 4,500 fatalities in total. This number doesn’t include untraceable attacks carried out by the militias or all deaths due to Iranian operations.
And now the U.S. is indirectly giving them air support, even though two of them are designated by the U.S. as terrorist groups and the militias have promised to kill U.S. advisors on the ground assisting Iraqi forces against ISIS.
These militias are backed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and Hezbollah—again, two groups sanctioned by the U.S. government due to their terrorist activities. Dozens of advisors from each are training 7,000 Shiite militiamen and Iraqi troops. One Hezbollah commander was killed in July.
Badr Brigades leader Hadi Al-Amiri nearly became the Interior Minister in this so-called “inclusive” Iraqi government. The Iranian regime lobbied hard for his appointment. Ultimately, the Iraqis chose a less-feared Badr Brigades operative, but the fact remains that this militia controls this important ministry.
Al-Amiri boasts, “I worked for four years every day and people never recognized that. Now, just four months as a fighter and all the people are talking about is Amiri.” Then he explained why:
“It’s because people love the one who defends him.”
These radical Shiite forces prosper because of the same reason that ISIS prospers: Innocent Sunnis and Shiites want to live. The Shiite militias are embraced because of concerns about ISIS, just as ISIS and the like are embraced because of concerns about the militias.
Irna’s approach to the nuclear issue isn’t much different. Iran is deceptively pursuing nuclear weapons capabilities, sacrificing in the short term in order to succeed in the long term. The objective is to have sanctions minimized or lifted, stabilize the regime with Western investment and shield Iran from future sanctions as its nuclear pursuit continues.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirms that Iran is still refusing to grant full access and to explain evidence of nuclear weapons work. Its stock of low-enriched uranium has increased 8% and Iran will not reduce its 19,000 centrifuges down to 4-5,000. About 10,000 are operating at this moment.
Iran says it will not dismantle a single nuclear site, including its Qom site clearly designed to weapons production. It continues to develop centrifuges and ballistic missiles and, in all likelihood, outsource nuke work to North Korea. And, as the IAEA admits, Iran may have covert nuclear work ongoing.
In return for this unsatisfactory cooperation, Iran is demanding that all sanctions be lifted and that a potential finalized deal only last 5 to 7 years before expiring, whereas the West wants a 10-15 year period.
Dangling the prospect of cooperation against ISIS in front of Iran will change nothing. Khamenei is actually getting what he wanted. Iran and Assad want to throw gasoline on the fire while be handed a fireman’s suit.
Iranian involvement against ISIS should be curtailed, not increased.