Washington’s overtures – and snubs – toward Iran in its campaign to put together a coalition to fight Islamic State, or ISIS, has drawn considerable coverage in recent days.
First, US Secretary of State John Kerry kept Iran out of his talks on the ISIS crisis, saying it would be “inappropriate” for terrorism sponsor Tehran to take part. Then, Washington asked for Iran’s cooperation in the fight, only to be refused on the grounds that the US had “evil intentions,” in the words of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Then came Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who panned Washington for refusing to deploy boots on the ground in Iraq, saying it would be impossible to defeat ISIS otherwise.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was next, asserting in an interview with NPR that the “heinous” ISIS was created “by the US invasion of Iraq” and was “armed and financed” by those now clamoring to fight it. Zarif also pledged to help Iraq “in whatever way we can” – neglecting to mention his own country’s involvement in a long and drawn-out war with it.
For the most part, with the disorientated global coalition against ISIS possibly depending on anyone including Iran to help in the long run, one witnesses voices stating the case as a “good idea” to listen to its eloquent leaders on Iraq. But there are other voices too, ones that warn that using Iran to save Iraq might not be such a good idea after all.
In a debate at Harvard University last week, former Obama National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon shared the opinion (with former Israeli National Security Council advisor Amidror) that Iranian involvement would be counter-productive, as it would prevent Sunni tribes from joining the coalition.
Foreign Policy this week ran a lengthy analysis by Phillip Smyth sounding warning bells about the Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias of the region, who he said frequently employ the same jihadist tactics that have so horrified the world when used by ISIS – but unlike ISIS, have influence in and even control over the Iraqi corridors of power.
Their growth, said Smyth, is a sign of Iran’s plans for Iraq’s future – fundamentalist Shi’ite domination, shadowy Iranian control, with a dash of anti-American sentiments. In this case, is there a lesser of two evils?