It would seem that the first test to the new US policy on Iran is playing out in Iraq, and Iran is winning. While president Trump announced his new strategy on Iran, aimed at curbing and restraining Iranian regional influence, Iran was trumping the US and US allies, expanding its regional influence in Iraq.
newsweek reported that the “US led coalition against ISIS in Iraq looks to be on the verge of collapse” and “it is Iran, identified by president Trump as the principal disrupter of stability in the Middle East, that has gained the most”.
It all came to a head in the oil rich northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, where Iraqi forces, sustained by Iraqi Shiite militias, who swear allegiance to the IRGC of Iran, trounced the Kurdish, and emerged victorious. Thus, the Kurdish fighters known as Peshmerga, former allies of the Iraqi government in curbing ISIS, who took Kirkuk and held it when Baghdad was unable to get its act together, have now been forced to withdraw. Although the US supported both sides (Iraqi government forces and the Kurds), it was certainly perceived as a victory of Iran over the US, as the Kurds were ousted by pro-Iranian militias. It became clear that Kirkuk will now be dominated by militias loyal to the IRGC, the same IRGC charged by the US as exporting the revolution and threatening American national security.
At first the US displayed indifference to the outcome of these clashes, but, as reported in defensenews, the pentagon at some stage understood the implications, and threatened to cease military support. US Senator John McCain warned of “severe consequences“, pointing out that US supplied military equipment intended to fight ISIS were now being misused by the Iraqi (pro-Iranian) forces against the pro-western Kurds. Yahoo correctly highlighted the betrayal aspect. Former Kurdish allies, who fought and bled for the cause, became, overnight, “the enemy”. No doubt as a result of the Iranian influence. As reported in the washingtonpost, Secretary Tillerson later called for all Iranian militias in Iraq to go home. The “wake-up” call came very late. The nypost went further and warned that the entire country of Iraq “is about to fall into Iran’s hands”.
foreignpolicy, addressing this issue in a policy paper with an understanding of the long term effects, concluded that if Trump wants to confront Iran he should start in Kirkuk.
The main lesson to be learnt from this episode is that the US and Iran are focused on different objectives. While the US and its allies are focused on the “defeat ISIS” cause, Iran has its eyes on the regional domination agenda. Every territory vacated by ISIS is immediately taken over by pro-Iranian militias, whether it be by Hezbollah in Syria, or Shiite militias in Iraq. Former allies in the anti-Isis campaign can be betrayed for the cause of exporting the revolution. Iran is one step ahead, as it has always been top priority.