In May, the Intelligence Ministry declared such statements to be unlawful and prosecutable because of their tendency to foster rifts between Sunni and Shiite groups inside and outside of Iran. The leader of the Iranian-backed, Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah reportedly urged Iran to follow through on these warnings with the recent raids on those networks’ offices.
Hezbollah, a Shiite group that engages in paramilitary and terrorist activities throughout various Arab and Muslim countries, has been providing logistical support to the Sunni group Hamas in its ongoing conflict with Israel. Iran, which sees opposition to the state of Israel as a rallying cause for the potential unity of Muslim communities under Iranian leadership, has also been supporting and arming Hamas.
This common cause of Shiite and Sunni groups gives helpful context to the Iranian decision to crack down on anti-Sunni broadcasts, in light of the fact that some high ranking Iranian clerics had formerly expressed explicit support for those same broadcasts. Iran has only a 10 percent Sunni minority and its government is run entirely by the Shiite clerical establishment. Iran has tended to privilege Shiite causes at the expense of Sunnis, but it has also supported Sunni terrorist organizations other than Hamas, including al-Qaeda affiliates, when doing so appeared to serve Iranian goals.
A number of Iranian officials hinted on Tuesday that they would no longer support Nouri al-Maliki as the Prime Minister of Iraq.
This move appears to give into pressure from moderate Sunnis and other minorities, who supported an insurrection against the Maliki government in response to his consolidation of power into a small set of exclusively Shiite hands. Iran has now signaled interest in finding a Prime Minister who is more capable of heading an inclusive government. This is in spite of the fact that many analysts agree that it was Shiite Iran’s support of Maliki that allowed him to push minorities out of government in the first place.
Neither is Iran’s sudden shift towards inclusion limited to outreach to Sunnis. In previous weeks, Iranian officials had issued statements to their own Kurdish population and planned visits to Iraqi Kurdistan in order to attempt to pressure the multi-national ethnic minority to join the fight against the Islamic State. Initially, Iran sought this assistance to help keep Maliki in power, but now the Kurdistan Workers Party has utilized Islamic State incursions into Kurdish territory as a rallying cry for possible Kurdish independence, and Iran is changing its expectations for Iraq, so as to include both Sunni and Kurdish voices in a government that maintains the territorial integrity of what had been a close Iranian ally under Maliki.
Middle East policy experts recognize several features that unify the various conflicts that are currently raging across the region. One of these is certainly the broad-ranging influence of Iran, the clerical leadership of which appears intent on positioning itself as the global leader of the Muslim community. With much Iranian policy being guided by Shiite ideology, the regime would surely prefer to secure this position through its own military might and that of other Shiite groups. But when conditions make this impossible, Iran has shown some limited willingness to work with Sunni groups as well.