Well, it’s official: Iran has sent troops into Iraq (along with heavy weapons, reconnaissance drones and artillery) to fight the Islamic State (or more specifically, to retake an oil refinery captured by the terror group), following a visit by Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan to Baghdad that mostly went under the media radar.
True to form, the Iranian press issued a barrage of reports on the newfound cooperation between Baghdad and Tehran on everything ranging from workers’ rights to “Takfiri terrorists” to “Saudi aggression against the Yemeni people.” It also praised the “cultural ties” between the two countries (who fought a bloody war not that long ago), calling said ties “deep and unbreakable” (perhaps in an Islamic-Shi’ite rendering of the famous “unbreakable bond”?) – and even asserting that they have “terrified Zionists and the hegemonic powers.”
But before Washington and Brussels start quaking in their boots, a closer look at these “real bonds” – and the Iranian “hegemonic ambitions” behind them – might be in order.
Some leading Western news outlets have already picked up the gauntlet, examining the circumstances that have led Iran to play a growing (and increasingly military) role in war-torn Iraq. In The Washington Post, for example, analysts Hamdi Malik and Maysam Behravesh wondered if Iran was creating its own state-within-a-state in Iraq, obstructing its neighbor’s path to viable democracy – but concluded that such an outcome is “unlikely […] even if some elements in Iran desire it.”
And what about the Iraqis? Another report out of The Washington Post’s Tehran Bureau examined the attitude on the Iraqi street toward Iran, finding that opinions are split along ethnic and sectarian lines – with the Shi’ite provinces rooting for Iran and the Shi’ite militias it supports, and Sunni areas looking to the US (or even ISIS); as the report duly noted, the Lebanon parallels do not bode well for Iraq.
Over at The New York Times, analyst David Motadel also treated Iran’s “vast patronage network” as fact, writing that it has gained an ever-increasing foothold in Iraq (and elsewhere) “under the umbrella of Shi’ite solidarity.” Is that what happens when a country sends its defense minister (and troops, and heavy weaponry) over to forge some neighborly “cultural ties”?