Amid the marches and events in Paris and throughout the world in response to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and its aftermath, the world’s news media paid scant attention to new developments in Iraq as Iran has dramatically scaled up not only its military presence but also its involvement in the internal affairs of Iraq.
Writing for the Associated Press, Hamza Hendawi Qassim Abdul-zahra reported the growing perception of Iraqis that Iran was their nation’s best ally against the growing influence of ISIS rather than the air campaign being waged by the United States and its allies.
He writes: “Shiite, non-Arab Iran has effectively taken charge of Iraq’s defense against the Sunni radical group, meeting the Iraqi government’s need for immediate help on the ground.
“Two to three Iranian military aircraft a day land at Baghdad airport, bringing in weapons and ammunition. Iran’s most potent military force and best known general — the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force and its commander Gen. Ghasem Soleimani — are organizing Iraqi forces and have become the de facto leaders of Iraqi Shiite militias that are the backbone of the fight.”
These fast moving developments have largely gone unnoticed, but may end up proving to be the most consequential changes happening in the Middle East because Iran’s control over Iraq would give it unprecedented reach and influence over the two large petroleum economies with two of the largest military powers.
The fact that Iran’s earlier puppeteering of Nouri al-Maliki’s government and its intervening in Syria’s civil war on behalf of Bashar Assad’s government directly led to the birth and explosive growth of ISIS in the first place is fast receding from everyone’s memory.
Iran’s lobbying machine and PR allies such as the National Iranian American Council have been quick to point out the potential value of a U.S.-Iran partnership against ISIS; conveniently ignoring the irony in such a marriage.
In fact, in a piece in Iran Media Focus, NIAC’s head and chief Iran apologist, Trita Parsi, was busy lambasting Congressional Republicans over the possibility of new Iran sanctions while defending a U.S.-Iran alliance.
But what is the end game for Iran’s ruling mullahs with this stepped up influence over Iraq? One possible scenario was detailed in a piece in Commentary Magazine where Michael Rubin noted a report in the Fars News Agency that “Iraqi Oil Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi will visit Tehran to ‘discuss joint Iran-Iraq oil fields, export of Iran’s gas to Iraq and trade of oil products.’ The article continues to say that Iran and Iraq have “agreed to develop their joint oilfields through setting up joint companies under a single management.”
It is also clear that Iran’s leadership has also harbored a deep-seated animosity towards members of the Iranian resistance who reside in camps located in Iraq and have persuaded Iraqi security forces to attack and harass them in the past. Firm control of Iraq by Iran could mean a massacre of these brave resistance members on par with the slaughter of civilians by extremists groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria or ISIS of Yazidis in Iraq.
These developments are disturbing and warrant response from the West. At the very least as a new round of nuclear talks begin, it is incumbent on the P5+1 negotiators to press Iran for a complete withdrawal from Iraq and a cessation from meddling in its internal affairs, let alone a blatant takeover of the country.
It is the height of hypocrisy to allow Iran a free hand in Iraq and simply replace the domination of ISIS with the domination of Iran. It is especially noteworthy given the evidence beginning to pile up of Iranian regime’s complicity in the birth and expansion of ISIS and other affiliated extremist groups. If anything, Iranian mullahs have positioned themselves as the mother ship for Islamic extremism and its reach can be seen in Paris, Ottawa, Sydney, Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere.
The U.S. and the West should not allow Iran’s theocracy a free hand in Iraq, nor should it be given a window of opportunity to increase its strength there and cement a foothold that it is hurriedly nurturing every day.
By Michael Tomlinson