On Sir Rifkind’s advice for U.S. cooperation with Iran

Rifkind suggested that the American government should cooperate with Iran to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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“It is often forgotten that ever since the Iranian revolution, and the ousting of the Shah in 1979, there have been several occasions when the Iranians have been working, informally, with the Americans though neither side found it convenient to draw attention to it. Whenever this has happened it has not been because of hypocrisy or double standards on either side. It has been because their national interests have coincided on specific issues, and co-operation has been an entirely logical consequence,” Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the chairman of the intelligence and security committee at the British parliament, wrote in a recent article in the Daily Telegraph.

Rifkind suggested that the American government should cooperate with Iran to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq. It’s an unrealistic suggestion, not because cooperation with Iran is forbidden but because the value of cooperation with it is equal to zero in the equation of the struggle with ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Sir Rifkind, these are the basics of politics in this region: Muslims, like Christians, of all different sects and doctrines, accuse each other of infidelity and there’s a long history of blood and wars between them. On the one hand, Iran is a state ruled by an extremist Shiite religious regime, and on the other hand, ISIS is an extremist Sunni organization that works in Iraq and Syria. So, how can Shiite Iran help America fight a Sunni rebellious group? It’s like saying that Britain, with the Protestant majority, must help fight a Catholic group or state during a sectarian dispute!

Rifkind suggested that the American government should cooperate with Iran to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The West can cooperate with Iran to curb the terrorist activities of the Lebanese group Hezbollah since it is a Shiite organization. The West can also cooperate with the Iranian government of Rowhani to pressure dictator Bashar al-Assad to step down since he is an ally of Iran and he belongs to a non-Sunni minority. The U.S. can cooperate with Iran to ensure the handing over of Sunni al-Qaeda leaders who live in Iran and work from there – including infamous terrorist Saif al-Adel - and those who are under the protection and care of the Iranian regime. These are areas where the West can try its luck cooperating with its rival Iran. However, I am confident the West will not achieve any success, considering the nature of the Iranian regime which is similar to al-Qaeda; the former is an extremist religious regime just as the latter is an extremist religious group.

A failed idea

Fighting against groups like ISIS and the al-Nusra Front outside the borders of Iran is a failed idea before it is born. This is because these groups don’t submit to Iran’s authority and don’t follow its religious doctrine and consider Iran their enemy.

It’s the worst advice that can be given to the U.S., which considers Britain the most experienced country with regards to Middle Eastern affairs. The American alliance with Shiite Iran against the terrorist ISIS will push Sunni moderates to align with terrorist organizations. This is the worst scenario anyone can think of because Sunnis are the majority of the one billion Muslims across the world. It will make the U.S. a target in a dirty sectarian war and it will bolster the position of terrorist groups. During the previous war against the Sunni al-Qaeda, between the years 2001 and 2010, the major allies were Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan. This is the logical approach in international relations. It is similar to the situation in which the U.S. agreed with the Iranian regime to remove Nouri al-Maliki from the Iraqi premiership, as Iran’s regime is Shiite and the Iraqi premiership is a post held by a Shiite figure.

Sir Rifkind can benefit from the experience of General Petraeus when he was a military officer fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq. Petraeus altered his approach towards managing the crisis and switched from generalizing enmity to categorizing enemies. In September 2007, he reconciled with Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr and cooperated with him in his Shiite-dominated areas. Also in 2007, he struck deals with leaders of the tribes of al-Anbar, the Sunni province plagued by al-Qaeda, and recruited over 100,000 Sunni tribesmen to fight the terrorist Sunni organization. In 2008, he left Iraq after a great decrease in violence.

The wisdom from the story suggests that cooperation with Iran against the Sunnis of Iraq or Syria will open the doors of hell and will grant ISIS the kiss of life after it began to feel besieged by al-Anbar’s Sunnis and Kurdish Sunnis who are pursuing it and fighting it in Iraq’s mountains and plains.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on August 26, 2014.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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