The escalation of violence in Iraq has placed the United States in yet another unenviable position, walking on a fine line between the obligation to support its regime ally in Baghdad and its responsibility to keep the country unified.
After having lost large swathes of the mainly Sunni heartland to Islamist militants and tribal forces, the embattled government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent Wednesday a request to the Obama administration requesting military help to regain full control of the lost areas.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters Wednesday that Iraq had requested U.S. airpower “to break the morale” of ISIS, which has threated to march into the capital Baghdad.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. army’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed during a Congressional hearing having received the Iraqi request but could not say if the Pentagon would honor it.
While Gen. Dempsey said it was in their national interest to counter ISIS, he blamed Maliki’s sectarian policies for the collapse of the security situation.
Failing the people
“There is very little that could have been done to overcome the degree to which the government of Iraq had failed its people. That’s what has caused this problem,” Dempsey told lawmakers.
The White House, meanwhile, said President Barack Obama has consulted and reviewed options for Iraq with Congressional leaders.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier this week that the United States was open to cooperating with Iran, which has long been a traditional foe.
And while the Pentagon ruled out any form of open military cooperation with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker told TV channel CBS that it is something the United States “can do” given their previous cooperation on Afghanistan.
“If we are seen as cooperating too closely with Iran, it is going to further alienate the Sunni element of the Iraqi population. So it’s good we’re talking. We just have to be careful, and they’re going to be cautious too.”
Abdelhamid Siyam, a Middle East political expert, told Al Arabiya News “Although there is a missing trust between Iran and the U.S., the recent development in Iraq most likely will bring both side a step closer in cooperation to defeat a vicious enemy like ISIS.”
“For the U.S. it falls within its interest to defeat such an extremist group that is spreading havoc and destruction,” Siyam said.
“For Iran such an extremist Sunni group prevails, it will threaten its influence and defeat its allies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon,” he added.
Doing whatever it takes
Iran is believed to have already deployed in Iraq as many as 2,000 forces, led by Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force.
Iranian President Hassan Rowhani said Wednesday that his government would “whatever it takes” to protect Shiite shrines against possible attacks by the advancing ISIS militants.
Iraq Foreign Minister Zebari, meanwhile, said “everything was possible” regarding a possible all-out Iranian intervention in Iraq.
Baghdad-based analyst Salim al-Hasani said the approach that adheres to the phrase “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” could lead to possible cooperation between Washington and Tehran in Iraq.
According to Trita Paris, president of the National Iranian American Council, “Iran and the U.S. need each other. And both of them need to recognize the other’s ability to play a stabilizing role. Few things have been as destabilizing for the region than the U.S.-Iran enmity.”
With or without
Saudi political commentator Jamal Khashoggi told Al Arabiya News that Iraq is already operating in Iraq and could increase its presence there “with or without U.S. cooperation.”
“The Americans are no longer able to control Iraq or prevent Iran from entering Iraq. Iran is already there and it does not need permission. The Iranians will try to minimize the losses, meaning to make sure the whole of Iraq does not fall under this revolt.”
Khashoggi said the likely outcome from the current crisis in Iraq is a country divided into three.
“I anticipate there will contact lines and these lines will draw the new map of Iraq. The lines will separate between the south of Iraq, its center and the Kurdish northern area,” he said.
The looming scenario for Iraq is similar to the so-called “soft-partition” plan for Iraq proposed by Joe Biden in 2007.
Khashoggi said this scenario could have been avoided if Iraq had “a nationalist not a sectarian government.”SHOW MORE