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Saturday, August 27, 2016
Obama’s Iran Strategy Creates Support for the Islamic State
Rabbi Daniel M. Zucker
Despite the obvious fallacy in Donald Trump's recent statement that President Obama and his former Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton were the "founders of ISIS", Hudson Institute scholar Michael Doran's February 2, 2015 essay "Obama's Secret Iran Strategy" demonstrates that a very flawed U.S. policy towards Iran actually helped create Sunni support for the radical Sunni Islamic State. Due to what former Senior Director at the National Security Council Elliott Abrams terms Obama's "ideology", the administration not only failed to comprehend Iranian culture and the absolutist theological nature of the Islamic Republic of Iran -- a blunder already begun in the Carter White House and perpetuated through all subsequent administrations -- but also compounded the error by believing that the mullah regime could be enticed to moderate its behavior.
A year after the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action we find Majlis Speaker of Parliament hard-liner Ali Larijani threatening that Iran may violate the JCPOA with a new startup of nuclear enrichment if any new sanctions are employed against Iran for its alleged nuclear activities, or those which UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon criticized in his report concerning ballistic missile tests. So too, the BfV, Germany's domestic security apparatus, indicates that Iran has attempted to buy illegal nuclear technology since last year's deal. Additionally, a recent report indicates that Iran has stepped up its cyberwar capabilities against the West. Thus, it's clear that the White House's hope that Iran would begin to change its behavior has proven erroneous. In reality, Iran's leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has not changed his opposition to the United States one iota. Indeed, the monies Iran has reaped from the deal have found their way to increased Iranian support for the Syrian regime of Bashar el-Assad and its various terrorist proxies -- particularly Hizb'allah -- in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, and Gaza.
Having pulled all U.S. troops out of Iraq without stabilizing the situation between the warring Sunni and Shia populations, the administration not only allowed Iran to continue to support and fund the most radical Shia factions and their militias, but also gave the radical Dawa party's Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki the chance to suppress the Sunni minority. The result of allowing al-Maliki to continue his sectarian oppression of the Sunnis was to cause a large portion of Sunnis to become radicalized and support the formation of the Islamic State, particularly among former Baathist army officers and officials. As Iran's radical Shia agenda became more prevalent in Iraq, leading both the Tehran-led Badr Organization militia and other Shia militias such as Asaib Ahl al Haq, or "League of the Righteous" to attack and assassinate Sunnis, particularly those that had any ties to the Saddam regime, the Sunnis reacted, and thus ISIS/the Islamic State found a steady supply of local recruits.
For the United States to win the war against the Islamic State, it is necessary not only to destroy it physically, but also to reverse the conditions that made it popular with a good portion of the Sunni masses. Unfortunately, the U.S. is relying on Iraq's Shia Popular Mobilization Units(PMUs) which too often commit atrocitiesagainst the fragmented Sunni minority.
As long as the current policy of relying on the Shia PMUs in its fight with Islamic State, the U.S. will fail to tame Iraq and arrest the sectarian wars. The PMUs are -- in essence -- Iranian proxies as their battlefield leadership is clearly demonstrated by the presence of Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC/Pasdaran), in Iraq at Takrit and Fallujah during the battles there. Soleimani not only advises but actually directs the battles and is aided by his own Qods Force troops as well as Shiite Fatemiyoun recruits from Afghanistan and Pakistan that have been employed to bolster Hizb'allah in Syria.
Accountability and strict discipline need to be enforced in American relations with Iraq. "Leading from behind" will not do in any manner whatsoever -- that's an open invitation to the Islamic State to morph into another terrorist entity. Boots on the ground and officials in Baghdad to enforce strict compliance with a non-sectarian agenda will be required. With careful instruction and guidance we succeeded in the "Tribal Awakening" of 2006-2007 and the "Surge" of 2007-2008; future success requires similar diligence on our part along with that of the government of Iraq. But this time we need to stay the course and not retreat from the arena until Iraq is at peace with itself. Given the right support, the GOI will opt for a successful harmonious state. But with the long history of mutual Sunni-Shia animosity and the ferocity of both sides in attacking the other, it will not be simple or quickly achieved. However, if we withhold our support and supervision, Iraq will not achieve peace and will continue to be a weak client of Iran whose malevolent agenda is all too well known from the past thirteen years of experience.
Across the border in Syria, the situation is somewhat more complicated. The "moderate" opposition -- thought by the U.S. to be concentrated in the Syrian Free Army (SFA) -- has recently allied itself with jihadist militias fighting the Assad regime, especially in the current battle over Aleppo. Although the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, led by Abu Mohammed al-Golani, has split recently from al-Qaeda in order to form Jabhat Fatah el al-Sham as an umbrella organization of all non-Islamic State Sunni opposition to the Assad regime, the jihadi agenda it espouses has not changed at all. Like Islamic State, Jabhat Fatah el al-Sham seeks to remove the Assad regime and replace it with a Sunni Islamic state.
The only Syrian group working actively against Islamic State in Syria is the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces which recently took the city of Manbij from IS after a two-month siege. This Kurdish-dominated coalition is made up of the Syrian YPG and a variety of Arab minorities.
Success against the Islamic State both in Iraq and in Syria is hampered by our reliance on Iran's Shiite axis in Iraq while attempting to remove Iran's client in Syria. Our "friends" in these fights do not share our values nor do they have similar goals and objectives for final outcomes. Until we realize that every coalition action that we take has multiple repercussions because of our "allies" all-too-frequent misdeeds, we will continue to fail to bring any sense of calm to the area. As mentioned above, "leading from behind" is a guarantee of failure. Success will require tremendous effort, diligence and hands-on supervision in order to prevent sectarian violence against civilians, minorities, and the less devout. And this problem will not be solved quickly no matter how much we wish it. But ignoring it will only allow it to fester and grow much more dangerous and lethal.
Rabbi Dr. Daniel M. Zucker, author of over one hundred articles on the Middle-East, is founder and Chairman of the Board of Americans for Democracy in the Middle-East, an organization dedicated to teaching the public about the dangers posed by radical Islamic fundamentalism. He may be contacted at contact@ADME.ws and/or ADME.firstname.lastname@example.org.