Meanwhile, Iraqi Kurdish forces, supported by the US military, were beginning operations to retake the Iraqi Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And in Syria, Kurdish and Arab forces launched an offensive outside of Raqqa, mirroring similar activities led by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Syrian army in nearby areas.
As Iran News Update also pointed out on Monday, the escalating Iranian role in the region is a source of concern for the US. While some Western policymakers see convergent interests with Iran because of the mutual conflict with the Islamic State, others are more inclined to focus on the same sorts of criticisms voiced by the Saudis, especially regarding Iranian contributions to escalating sectarianism.
The Breitbart report on the Fallujah offensive indicates that the Sunni populations in the region are bracing for the potential aftermath of territory being claimed by the Shiite militants operating under Iran’s command. Reportedly, many of those militants view Sunni citizens as collaborators, and consequently there have been numerous reports of the Shiite groups carrying out reprisals and summary executions on civilian populations. In fact, some commentators have specifically described these actions as being as bad or worse than the atrocities for which the Islamic State has long since become notorious.
These accounts of escalating sectarianism have played into Saudi and other recommendations that the Iranians be prevented from further expanding their influence in these conflict zones. But the Iranians for their part have pushed back against such recommendations. They have in fact reiterated their commitments specifically in the context of these latest offensives. And these reaffirmations have in many cases helped to underscore the notion of Iran’s influence on sectarianism and the continuation of broader conflicts in the region.
For instance, the Indo-Asian News Service reports that on Monday, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan said that the Islamic Republic of Iran would continue to maintain unqualified support of the embattled Syrian regime and the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq. Iranian officials have tended to characterize this support as the deployment of military advisors, but Tehran’s critics have insisted that it is more straightforward participation in the war. By some accounts, the IRGC has several thousand fighters in Syria, who have been joined by many thousands of other foreign Shiite fighters mainly drawn from Afghan and Pakistani communities, and more recently by a division of the Iranian regular army.
But despite trying to downplay the extent of its involvement, Tehran has not been the least bit shy about describing that involvement as being religiously motivated. Dehqan said that Iran is committed to sending its so-called advisors “because parts of the Islamic community have been under attack and we are defending them.”
Even though some Western policymakers see Iran as a potential partner in the fight against the Islamic State, various Iranian officials have expressed a much different view, even going so far as to accuse Iran’s traditional enemies in the West and in Israel of deliberately creating the Islamic State in order to destabilize the Muslim world. Such commentary raises additional questions about the likely divergence of Iranian and Western interests, and the possible consequences of Iran’s further regional empowerment.
Those policymakers who have embraced Iran as a partner have tended to be the same people as have expressed hope that the Iranian regime is facing a period of moderation. The latter claim is bolstered by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s pursuit of a nuclear deal with Western powers, but it is also undermined by his broader record, including his contribution to rhetoric aimed at the US and its allies.
For some critics of the Iranian regime, all of these indications of a lack of moderation help to make the case against collaboration with Tehran in general. This reflects not just on the perception of Iran as a potential partner in the latest offensives against the Islamic State, but also on the perception of Iran as a trustworthy counterpart in the nuclear deal.
Certainly, many of those critics have decried the weakness of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and have described it as trading significant wealth for insufficient guarantees that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon in the near future. Whereas the moderation narrative suggests that the Rouhani administration entered into the agreement on the basis of a genuine change in sentiment, the recent evidence of persistent anti-Western rhetoric supports the view expressed by Algermeiner on Tuesday regarding the nuclear deal.
In an article detailing the long history of cooperation between Iran and another US enemy, Algermeiner suggested that Iran likely agreed to the limited restrictions in the JCPOA because it would later simply be able to rely on North Korea to fill in the gaps on the Iranian nuclear program. The article went on to tie this into Iran’s purported interest in dominating the Middle Eastern region, noting that North Korea has made many previous moves to support Iran in its conflict with Israel and other US allies.