The Hill, 8 July 2015
Recent reports filtering down from Iraq are further confirmation that U.S. President Barack Obama believes Iran and its proxies can play a constructive role in re-establishing security in this war-torn corner of the Middle East and rolling back the advances of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), the extremist group that has taken large swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territory under its control. According to a Bloomberg scoop, U.S. forces are now sharing base Taqqadum with Iran-backed Shiite militia groups. Although proponents of this approach might argue that Shiite militias are the only viable option to fight I.S., a broader examination proves that such an undertaking is a risky business that will prove detrimental to the goals pursued by a U.S.-led campaign that is now nearing the end of its first year.
From a moral standpoint, it is plain wrong to align oneself with forces that are allegedly involved in crimes against humanity and the torture and murder of innocent civilians, no matter what short-lived gains such a choice might yield. According to reports by the international bodies such as Amnesty International and the U.N., these same forces are responsible for the abduction and brutal murder of Iraqi Sunnis, and have on several accounts proceeded with the looting and burning of Sunni towns after reclaiming them from I.S.
Hadi al-Ameri, who heads the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the umbrella group of Iraqi Shiite militias backed by Iran, is notorious for his violent role in the sectarian violence that ensued following the bombing of the Askari shrines in Iraq’s Karbala in 2006. His superior, Qassem Suleimani, the leader of the terrorist-designated Quds force, is the man who is spearheading Iran’s effort to prevent the downfall of the Assad regime in Syria.
Among the groups whose members are now attending U.S. military briefings are some that haveAmerican blood on their hands. Abu-Madhi al-Muhandis, who leads one of the main constituents of the PMF, has been involved in terrorist attacks against U.S. targets dating as far back as the 1980s.
“It’s an insult to the families of the American soldiers that were wounded and killed in battles in which the Shia militias were the enemy,” said Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.).
From a political perspective, enlisting Shiite militias would defeat the U.S.’s goal to unite Iraqis in the effort to root out I.S. Reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites is one of the main stepping stones toward defeating I.S. both in military and ideological terms. This task can’t be accomplished when you’re aligned with the Iranian regime, which is one of the main sources of the sectarianism and instability that allowed I.S. to rise and flourish.
A tacit approval of Iranian meddling in Iraq will force the Iraqi people to choose between I.S. and Iran’s proxy militias, which according to the U.S. State Department’s annual report on worldwide terrorism, “have exacerbated sectarian tensions in Iraq and have committed serious human rights abuses against primarily Sunni civilians.” Under such circumstances, Sunnis will be forced to acquiesce to the hegemony of I.S. to be spared from the brutality of Iran-backed militants.
From a strategic perspective too it is wrong to welcome Iran’s role in the Iraqi crisis. Iran and U.S. are following completely contrasting agendas in Iraq. The U.S. seeks to stabilize the country and prevent the propagation of the onslaught caused by I.S. Iran only seeks to expand its influence and fulfill its longtime dream of occupying Iraq and further expanding its western borders. Ayatollah Khomeini, the deceased founder of the Islamic Republic, had openly voiced his desire to “conquer Jerusalem through Karbala.” Today, Iran’s officials are bragging about occupying four Middle-East capitals.
From a tactical perspective, it’s wrong to place U.S. troops in the crosshairs of Iran-backed militias. Contrary to the belief of U.S. officials, Iran’s enmity with I.S. is not rooted in ideological beliefs and is rather one of convenience. Tehran would not hesitate to order its proxy groups to switch sides and turn on U.S. troops as soon as it deems that the I.S. is no longer a threat to its interests and influence in Iraq. In fact, only a few hundred miles eastward, Iran’s ally, Bashar al-Assad, is colluding with I.S. in order to repel the advances of opposition forces seeking to dislodge him from power.
As negotiations between world powers and the Iranian regime over its nuclear program have entered crunch time, Tehran’s behavior will be at its most volatile. There’s precedence of Iran using hostage taking and terrorist activities as a means to strengthen its hand in diplomacy. With hundreds of U.S. officers parading before its proxies, the Iranian regime might be tempted to exploit this vulnerability if the talks don’t turn out to its liking.
You cannot fight evil with evil. There is no scenario in which even the implicit inclusion of the Iranian regime would prove constructive to the U.S.-led effort against I.S. Instead of looking for short-term gains that will result in long-term damage, the U.S. must make an earnest attempt at achieving its goals by calling for the eviction of the Iranian regime from Iraq and providing Iraq’s Sunnis with both the political and military power that will give them the strength and confidence needed to stand up against I.S. Failing to do so will only result in furthering the evil designs of I.S. and the Iranian regime.
Basiri is an Iranian human rights activist and supporter of democratic regime change in Iran. He tweets at @Amir_bas