Aleppo is ablaze in Syria; Fallujah falls in Iraq; and Ramadi is raped. Yet Iran, the arsonist, offers to participate in Geneva II talks about Syria’s security and provide arms to Iraq against al Qaeda.
The idea that Tehran and Washington face common enemies and hence should be friends overlooks Iran’s facilitation of those adversaries. Due to Tehran, fighting occurs between the secular Free Syrian Army and the Islamist affiliate of al Qaeda in Aleppo, as battles occur between Bashar al-Assad’s forces and Syrian oppositionists.
Tehran opposes the core of the June 2012 Geneva I communiqué. Article 9a: "The establishment of a transitional governing body … shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent," which means Assad must go. Opposing Geneva I makes Iran ill-suited for the Geneva II talks, which begin Jan. 22. Tehran’s posture: Its "honor" precludes participation as less than a full partner. Good: no participation.
Tehran ferries arms across Iraqi airspace to Damascus; Iranian-armed and -trained Hezbollah from Lebanon saves the Assad regime. By aligning with Assad, his Alawite supporters, and Iran while fighting Sunni rebels, Hezbollah is at the center of a Shiite versus Sunni sectarian conflict. Quds Force paramilitary units of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps reinforce and command Hezbollah allies and the Syrian army against the rebels.
Consider Iran’s collusion with Baghdad across the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Such cooperation provides a window for al Qaeda in Iraq after being defeated by U.S. forces a decade ago. Although Tehran claims it wants to help Bagdad battle al Qaeda "terrorists" in its Sunni-dominated western Anbar province — the arsonist offering to put out the fire — much violence erupting in Sunni provinces is because of Tehran’s support for and promotion of sectarian policies pursued by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has become increasingly reliant on Iran as he seeks a third term in office.
Tehran’s negative influence and Washington’s desire to exit from Iraq undermined achievement of a status of forces agreement between Baghdad and Washington that ensures a residual combat presence of U.S. troops, Hence, Tehran set up proxy groups to marginalize and suppress Sunni political rivals.
The upheavals in Fallujah and Ramadi are not just the work of an al Qaeda affiliate. Local tribal militias, some of which I interviewed in 2008, said the recent fighters belonged to the Shiite Badr Brigade (established and trained by Iran two decades ago) and had been sent to Fallujah to set the stage for Iraqi military intervention.
A Sunni organization characterized the fighting as against Iran and said the group is expanding outside Anbar to join with Sunni tribes in other provinces to battle Iraq’s Shiite-led government and against "Iranian occupation."
While many in the U.S. Congress do not favor arms sales to Iraq, Barack Obama’s administration agreed to sell 75 Hellfire missiles and low-tech surveillance drones to assist Baghdad in counterterrorism activities without concessions on how it treats Sunni opponents and Iranian dissidents in Iraq.
But Congress has delayed shipment of Apache helicopters because Baghdad may use the weapons on domestic enemies, including Sunni tribes fighting al Qaeda and Iranian proxies. Congress is also very concerned about Baghdad’s mistreatment of Iranian dissidents in Iraq.
Baghdad’s complicity with Tehran results in murder, hostage-taking, and missile attacks against the Iranian dissidents. There have been three attacks by Iraqi security forces or proxies on Camp Ashraf: July 2009, April 2011, and September 2013. In the last one, 52 Ashraf residents were killed, and seven remain as hostages. There have been four rocket attacks against Camp Liberty: in February, April, June, and December 2013.
Washington’s failure to hold Maliki accountable for these attacks emboldened Baghdad and Tehran. According to resistance intelligence, Iranian Quds Force officers arrived in Iraq with heat-seeking missiles to plan more attacks on Sunni neighborhoods in the capital and on vulnerable Iranian dissidents in Camp Liberty.
Iran proposes to stabilize Syria after Tehran destabilizes Syria; Iran offers arms to defend Iraq from al Qaeda after Tehran enables its affiliate to prosper in Iraq; Iraqi security attacks those whom it promises to secure. There is something rotten in such narratives.
What to do: Keep Iran out of the Geneva II talks on Syria; publicize Tehran’s role in facilitating al Qaeda in Iraq; and delay arms sales to Iraq until Maliki compromises with Sunnis and ceases to repress Iranian dissidents. Finally, even without U.S. boots on the ground, it is incorrect to say, "This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis," because it is also America’s fight.
Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy's award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. Lynch previously wrote Foreign Policy's Turtle Bay blog, for which he was awarded the 2011 National Magazine Award for best reporting in digital media. He is also a recipient of the 2013 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Silver Prize for his coverage of the United Nations.
Before moving to Foreign Policy, Lynch reported on diplomacy and national security for the Washington Post for more than a decade. As the Washington Post's United Nations reporter, Lynch had been involved in the paper's diplomatic coverage of crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia, as well as the nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea. He also played a key part in the Post's diplomatic reporting on the Iraq war, the International Criminal Court, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Lynch's enterprise reporting has explored the underside of international diplomacy. His investigations have uncovered a U.S. spying operation in Iraq, Dick Cheney's former company's financial links to Saddam Hussein, and documented numerous sexual misconduct and corruption scandals.
Lynch has appeared frequently on the Lehrer News Hour, MSNBC, NPR radio, and the BBC. He has also moderated public discussions on foreign policy, including interviews with Susan E. Rice, the U.S. National Security Advisor, Gerard Araud, France's U.N. ambassador, and other senior diplomatic leaders.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Lynch received a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985 and a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 1987. He previously worked for the Boston Globe.| The Cable |