Referring to the Islamic Republic as the “godfather” of Islamic extremism, Rafizadeh pointed out that the regime can be shown to be a major supporter of about a quarter of all organizations that are internationally designated as terrorist groups. This aside, Rafizadeh declared that the reasons why the Islamic Republic is dangerous are so numerous that “they could fill a whole book.”
After going on to highlight the regime’s abysmal human rights record and its constitutional mandate to export a revolutionary, extremist vision of Shiite Islamic beyond Iran’s borders, he used the interview to argue in favor of international support for opposition groups within Iran, and for moderate voices throughout the Muslim world.
There are many different ways in which this support could be offered in the existing landscape of geopolitics, but one of them was highlighted by Trudy Rubin in an editorial that appeared at the Spokesman-Review the same day that the Clarion Project published its interview.
Rubin called attention to the dangerous growth of Iranian influence in Iraq, where government forces and Shiite militants have been waging simultaneous wars against the Sunni terrorist group ISIL. As has been explained in many previous reports, a great many of the Shiite groups involved in this conflict are directly supported by Iran, with some of them having publicly sworn allegiance to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, over and above the government of the country in which they are operating.
Rubin noted that the city of Mosul, for instance, is surrounded by Iran-backed Shiite militias that are guarding the checkpoints leading into and out of the area. “Washington should regard the black flags [of these militant groups] as a warning signal,” the editorial declares before going on to explain that Iran is positioning itself not only to deeply penetrate the political and military infrastructure of its western neighbor, but also to urge the Iraqi government to kick the US out of the country once ISIL is defeated.
Rubin presents a familiar argument regarding the danger that this poses. Because an Iranian-Shiite presence would only worsen the country’s sectarian tensions and drive Sunnis into the arms of new alternatives to ISIL, Rubin says it is crucial for the US and its allies to formulate a plan that guarantees Sunnis a place in the Iraqi government after the current conflict is over. In practice, this would involve ousting both Iran-backed Shiites and ISIL-affiliated Sunnis from positions of influence, and thus promoting moderate alternatives on both sides, in line with Rafizadeh’s recommendations.
This is certainly easier said than done, but some groups including the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran have long advocated for reducing Iran’s Islamist influence by going after the source of most of its foreign operations and terrorist sponsorship: the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. This is something that US President Donald Trump has shown willingness to do, as by initiating the State Department review process that could lead to the IRGC being designated as a foreign terrorist organization.
Some persons close to Middle Eastern affairs believe that the effects of the resulting blacklist could be transformative not only in areas of Iranian foreign influence but also within the Islamic Republic itself. For instance, in an editorial published by Forbes on Wednesday, Iranian dissident and political analyst Shahriar Kia argued that an economic weakening of the IRGC would also weaken the instruments of repression inside the country and allow more moderate Muslims and pro-democratic activists to rise up in protest against the hardline theocracy.