Thursday, December 04, 2014

Iran steps up its role in repelling Islamic State fighters in Iraq

A front page story in the New York Times today, "U.S. and Iran Both Attack ISIS, But Try Not to Look Like Allies", describes the more public role that Iran is playing in helping Iraq fend off Islamic State fighters.  The reporters write that Iran's military role "has proved essential in repelling the advances of the Islamic State".  Of course the U.S. is concerned about what Iran's longer term ambitions and goals could be and the reporters also write that "The Obama administration has made clear that while it welcomes Iran's help in fighting the extremists, there is no actual coordination."  That is the responsibility of the Iraqis, to be told who is doing what and communicate to make sure that there is no conflict between the actions of the U.S. and Iranian advisers and forces.

On October 19th, in a post here on ENS it was written that the "only viable option seen here to stop ISIS is to allow Iran to send in their highly trained Revolutionary Guard troops."  The comment went on to say that such a role was probably politically impossible as it would inflame tensions with the Iraqi Sunnis and disturb neighbors, in particular Saudi Arabia, the great non-participant.

In recent weeks, or longer, Iran has used their 1970's era fighter jets to bomb targets inside Iraq, but the role that their ground forces are playing is unclear.  Whether they are just advisers and suppliers of arms and equipment or in some cases direct participants in the conflict is not known here, and is not part of the information in the article today.  One Iraqi politician and Shiite militia leader was quoted as saying, "If there were an honest coordination between U.S. and Iranian advisers, Iraq could be liberated within a week."  To the contrary, a leading Sunni lawmaker said that a U.S. and Iranian agreement on the fighting would mean that "the Americans are handing over Iraq to Iran."

This situation is evolving.  The Times story was revelatory, but much more remains to be told it seems.  More than anything yet, this holds promise for some reconciliation or at least better communication between the U.S. and Iran, and even perhaps more constructive dialogue on the nuclear issue.  What an optimist I am, or would like to be.

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