It is good that the Obama Administration is sending 275 troops to Iraq in order to protect US Embassy and personnel. It is also good that the Obama Administration is using our air assets to stay apprised of insurgent activities, which helps us help the Iraqi military to function to some degree. Although offering Iraq military advisors and the potential use of American airpower to protect undefended Iraqi civilians from heavily armed insurgents could be a way of slowing the collapse of the Iraqi military and national government without alienating sectarian factions, i.e. peacekeeping, there is no mission unless the dysfunctional government can come together, or be replaced, and the disbanding, terrified military can regain control of its own ranks, or be replaced.
For many, the immediate threat of a failed Iraq is driving speculation that the Obama Administration might be willing to partner with Iran. Although the Administration has largely ruled out such cooperation, it is attempting to use Iranian forces to replenish the failing Iraqi military. Where both Iran and the US have the common short-term interest of preventing the Nouri al-Maliki government from undergoing a catastrophic collapse, which is not to say a controlled transition/collapse would be beneficial or harmful, inviting Iran into Iraq runs counter to several broader US interests.
During the Iraq War, for starters, Iran supported and encouraged insurgent attacks on US troops in order to help hinder America’s ability to respond to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, among other issues. Given the trillions of dollars spent and the thousands of lives lost over Iraq, openly inviting the Iranian military into Iraq would essentially nullify every ounce of that sacrifice. In such a case, we would have been better off just letting Iran invade OPEC’s second largest producer of oil and expands its sphere of influence as a growing regional power. Clearly, this outcome, then or now, should be seen as far more problematic than allowing Iraq to undergo even a temporary collapse, which is far more problematic for Iran, and/or divide into multiple nations, especially when considering the anti-Iranian stances of traditional allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Meanwhile, it is important to recognize Iran is struggling with internal political shifts. Far more moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani came to power as a result of stewing civil discontent and international pressure, but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamein is still ultimately in control of Iran’s policies. This means Rouhani’s survival as a political leader depends on his ability to produce results that the Supreme Leader can accept and that hinges on his ability to find solutions the outside world can also accept. Having the West rely on Iranian troops to stabilize Iraq would likely to be a very useful solution when it comes to balancing those often-competing interests. Not only would it give the West a vested interest in Iranian military power, it would also aid Iran’s efforts to establish itself as a regional power.
That said, the reason people are speculating about such cooperation is that the West and Iran are currently engaged in nuclear talks that could eventually lead to normalized relations. Given Iran’s negative interference in places like Iraq and Syria over the past few decades, including its support of terrorist activities, Iran’s rise as a regional power has long run counter to Western and regional ally interests. As such, Iran has conflicting interests when it comes to expanding its influence and securing normalized relations with the rest of the world.
Although the leaders of Iran may prioritize these issues differently and view both as achievable at this time, the International Community needs to see a reformed Iran before it can be allowed to rise as a regional power. It would, therefore, be wise for the Iranian government, particularly the more conservative elements, to give Rouhani space to build trust by putting plans to expand Iran’s sphere of influence on hold. Instead of playing a destructive role in Syria by solely supporting President Assad and trying to take military action inside Iraq, it is best for Iran to focus on its relationship with its adversaries. Consequently, Iran’s role in Iraq at this time is to stop supporting any groups that might be helping to destabilize the situation.
It is important to recognize Iran and Iraq’s Shia majority would be very compatible should an Iranian military intervention occur; however, the Sunni minority would likely become further more marginalized, or become the victims of genocide, due to their alliance, thus adding fuel to the fire. Given realities like Saudi Arabia’s Sunni majority, which is also the majority in the Muslim world, and its support of Sunni militants in Syria, there is quite a sectarian web connecting various conflicts in the Middle East. While extremists have already taken advantage of a lack of apathy before the September 11th Attacks, the failed Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and the chaos following the Arab Spring revolutions to prosper, the region may well be shifting from the rough transition away from unresponsive governments to an outright regional war based on sectarian divisions.
In terms of a regional strategy, this means the International Community needs to avoid action intended to save the al-Maliki government that can trigger an open regional conflict defined by sectarian division. Supporting an unpopular and/or ineffective government will ultimately lead to failure, always. The truth is that the outside world cannot respond fast enough with enough force to stop the collapse of the al-Maliki government and the Iraqi military, if it cannot protect itself. In other words, the best the Obama Administration could do is put troops on the group to replace Iraqi security forces and that is not going to happen.
The true question for the Obama Administration, and all other concerned parties, is, therefore, what can be done to restabilize the situation as soon as possible. If Sunni and Shia militants collide in a war over the whole of Iraq, there could be a bloody civil war that could turn into a regional conflict. If Sunni and Shia militants come to a standstill where all sides end up taking control of different territories within Iraq, politically dividing the country is likely the best option. That is, unless the Iraqi central government and military can step up to this challenge in order to their Peoples as a nation, but this seems more and more likely as the outside world finds itself doing more to save Iraq than Iraq.
Read old posts