News / Middle East

Observers: Iran Changing Dynamics of Iraqi Conflict

FILE - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, shown here, has met with Iranian Gen. Ghasem Soleimani.
FILE - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, shown here, has met with Iranian Gen. Ghasem Soleimani.
Last week, Sunni militants led by fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant steamrolled through parts of northern Iraq, seizing Mosul, Tikrit and other cities. This week, they’ve met stiffer resistance, which some experts call an indication that Iraq’s demoralized army is getting new help from its neighbor, Iran.
 
And, these observers say, the insurgency threatening to unravel Iraq is prompting a startling realignment of interests between the U.S. and Iran, at least in the short term.
 
Iran’s growing role in the Iraqi crisis has drawn mixed reactions.
 
Fighters from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) likely already are in action, according to Phillip Smyth, a University of Maryland researcher who monitors jihadist and Shiite social media sites.
 
Facebook pages with links to Iran’s revolutionary guards claim that Shiite fighters from Iran have been deployed in “defense of Samarra,” an Iraqi city that is home to a major Shia shrine threatened by the jihadists, Smyth said. Iranian websites also indicate the guards may have produced their first “martyr,” Ali Reza Moshajari, who reportedly was killed Saturday.
 
Commanders here in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq say that they suspect several hundred Iranian guardsmen already are in Iraq and that Iranian intelligence is likely assisting Syrian warplanes in airstrikes. Last weekend, two were aimed at ISIL convoys.
 
The Kurdish commanders also claim the militants’ occupation of Mosul and Tikrit is paper-thin. They say many of those who led the assault on Mosul for ISIL – also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS – have been shifted to stage hit-and-run attacks on towns in the Tigris valley north of Baghdad.
 
Mosul is Iraq’s second-largest city. Tikrit is the hometown of the late, deposed leader, Saddam Hussein.
 
U.S. and Iran share interest
 
U.S. officials acknowledge that Tehran and Washington have a common interest in shoring up the Shiite government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
 
Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview Monday with Yahoo! News, said the Obama administration would “not rule out anything that would be constructive.”
 
In Vienna, where representatives of the United States and several other countries have been meeting with their Iranian counterparts to talk about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, U.S. officials said participants had discussed the Iraq crisis but had ruled out military cooperation.

Iranian commander consulted

Maliki, frustrated with leaders of the demoralized Iraqi military, reportedly has turned to a top Iranian commander for some advice.
 
Maliki met Monday in Baghdad with the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Gen. Ghasem Soleimani. Kurdish sources say the general is drafting a coordination strategy for the Iraqi military.
 
On Tuesday, the prime minister dismissed four of Iraq’s military leaders for failing to perform their “national duty,” according to a statement read on state TV.
 
Iranian commanders have proved crucial to the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They got involved in the past year, backing up fighters from Tehran’s ally, Hezbollah, Lebanon’s militant Shia movement. Since then, the Syrian government has scored some notable battlefield gains.
 
‘Recipe for disaster’
 
Some American analysts argue that U.S. collaboration with Iran could have serious consequences.
 
“Inviting Iran to help stabilize Iraq is a recipe for disaster,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a Mideast expert with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank in Washington, D.C.
 
He said Iran shouldn’t be a desirable partner for the U.S.
 
“It's also important to remember that ISIS's rise is directly tied to Iran's direct support to the Assad regime,” Schanzer said. “Iran dispatched the IRGC and Hezbollah to fight ISIS and others in Syria, which has only increased the fervor of the Sunni jihadi factions. Do we expect this not to happen in Iraq?”
 
Accusations abound
 
Some Sunni Muslims who fled Mosul for a sunbaked refugee camp on the outskirts of Erbil expressed concern about their own government’s actions.
 
“I left Mosul not because of the jihadists,” said Raghdad, who gave a single name. “They were OK with us. My worry was Maliki will soon start bombing Mosul. I am scared of warplanes.”
 
In the dusty camp of blue tents, other Sunni Muslims had harsh words for the Iraqi leader, arguing he had prompted the militants’ rise by pursuing a Shia-dominated agenda.
 
Maliki defended his position Tuesday, rejecting calls inside Iraq and from the West to reach out to Sunnis.
 
Instead, he blamed Saudi Arabia for much of the uprising, saying the Persian Gulf’s main Sunni power bears responsibility because it has been funding Sunni militant rebels in neighboring Syria.
 
"We hold them responsible for supporting these groups financially and morally, and for the outcome of that — which includes crimes that may qualify as genocide: the spilling of Iraqi blood, the destruction of Iraqi state institutions and historic and religious sites," the Iraqi government said in a statement.
 
Saudi officials deny the kingdom has channeled funds to ISIL.
 
Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.

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by: Robert Ezergailis from: Canada
June 18, 2014 8:22 PM
Very strange that the Maliki Shiite government would ask Washington for air strikes to try to force the United States to appear partial to the Shiites and against the Sunni. Maliki ought to ask his friends in Tehran for whatever assistance he believes his Shiite government must have. Iran does have an air force and boasts that it is a very capable air force. Why bring the United States into the middle of a Shiite versus Sunni battle ?
In Response

by: Duke of Plaza-Toro
June 19, 2014 4:29 AM
No doubt Maliki would laugh himself sick, as would the Iranians, if the US wasted lives and money to carry out Iran's policy and do his fighting for him. (So, I'm sure, would the Iraqi soldiers, who appear to have run almost as fast as I would have from the fray.) If the US supports the Shia, it backs the Ayatollah Khomeni's policy of taking over Iraq and allowing a Shia drive for Kuwait and the Shia majority areas which contain most of Saudi Arabia's oil. If it supports the Sunnis, it backs Islamic terrorists who'd love to blow up a few more World Trade Centres. The obvious solution is put all the money it can print (I understand the Federal Reserve prints $85 billion a month) into building synthetic oil plants. It can buy the technology from South Africa, which has been doing this for 40 years. Once it no longer needs Middle Eastern oil, it can abandon the place and leave the locals alone to kill each other in peace.

by: M Abdul Naser Nasu from: Bangladesh
June 18, 2014 5:05 AM
World powers & power brokers has already ignited the fuel tanks of middle east by overthrowing Saddam Regime without setting an unified admilnstration for Iraq.Noorie All Maluku does not have any support from popular power bases of Iraq and as well as Historically US has failed to establish a balanced administration after their Invasion. Geo-politically Iraq should be governed by Shiate-Sunni top Clergy men as well as top politicians.Iraq should be governed by all the political groups not by Iranian puppets.Definitely ISIL is a group organized by Sunni depressed peoples not linked to All Qaida but they are falsely relating to Al Qaida by western media which directly benefiting Iran in the interior struggle of Iraq.Iran has the muscle to establish their offshoots by using terrorists plea over US and they are cleverly engaged the US to invade Iraq to destroy the Sunni uprising whichwill be more fatal & dangerous to US policy over the region as well as should crush the balance of power in the volatile M.East.More over the original plan lies wirh the Almighty what is to be coming soon,be aware of the Revelation in the Holy Books.

by: meanbill from: USA
June 18, 2014 1:41 AM
MY OPINION? -- (Don't trust the US President who bowed to the "Sunni" Saudi King) --- and don't trust those who armed and trained the "Sunni" extremists/terrorists including the (ISIL) in Syria, -- (and for sure) -- don't trust those who armed and trained the "Sunni" Iraq Security Forces that threw down their clothes in the street, and walked away, and joined with the "Sunni" (ISIL), to attack the Shia led Iraq government. -- (AND MOST OF ALL?) -- don't trust those who'd want Iraq to sign an "Unequal Treaty" with them?

THE WISE MAN said it; -- "Know your enemies, and know yourself, and you can win a hundred battles without losing a single man" -- (BUT?) -- "Trust someone you shouldn't, and you will suffer a devastating defeat, and lose the war" .. from the book "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu?

by: mytake from: World
June 17, 2014 9:59 PM
Can we finally see some inclusiveness of Shias in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain (where Sunni minority government brutally represses the Shia majority)?

Highly unlikely, as no US Congressperson has the courage to tell - let alone "lecture" - the autocrats and sunni wahabi extremist running Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to also show some inclusiveness.

With a few OPEC dollars thrown their way, these so called leaders in Washington DC quickly forget that most of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudi Wahabi Jihadists!

The very same radical Islam that the Saudis promote worldwide to the tune of $10-15 billion.

No wonder our foreign policy and economy is in such a mess when we seem to have leaders who bumble through from both sides of their mouths.
In Response

by: meanbill from: USA
June 18, 2014 11:09 AM
IF ONLY? -- If only he US didn't arm and train the extremists/terrorists in Syria, and the "Sunni" Security Forces in Iraq, none of this would be happening now, would it?

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