Iraq Crisis Puts US on Same Side With Assad, Iran Quds Force

As I pointed out two weeks ago, US foreign and military policy is now so muddled that the primary response to any ongoing crisis is to choose a side to arm without thought to the inevitable blowback that will come from trying to pick winners and losers in otherwise internal affairs of far-flung countries. As the meltdown of the US-trained Iraqi military accelerates, we now see a situation whose supreme irony would be hilarious if only so many lives were not senselessly caught in the crossfire. Two developments of that sort stand out today.

First is the news that Syrian aircraft have carried out a strike against ISIS targets inside Iraq. Because Iraq has been pleading with the US to carry out attacks of this sort, it appears that early reports first assumed that US drones had been involved:

Syrian government aircraft bombed Sunni militant targets inside Iraq on Tuesday, further broadening the Middle Eastern crisis a day after Israeli warplanes and rockets struck targets inside Syria.

Iraqi state media initially reported that the attacks near Iraq’s western border with Syria were carried out by U.S. drones, a claim that was quickly and forcefully denied by the Pentagon.

Think about that one for a minute. Last fall, the US was agonizing over how to find and arm only those groups fighting the Assad government in Syria that are “moderate” so that we didn’t arm the then fledgling ISIS group. But now, inside Iraq, state media is initially unable to distinguish an action taken by Assad from one taken by the US. That is, Assad, whom we are fighting inside Syria, is on our side inside Iraq.

The second development is a pairing of US interests with one we have been fighting for a much longer time. The New York Times brings us the latest on Iranian assistance to Iraq in its struggle against ISIS. The initial part of the report seems routine:

Iran is flying surveillance drones over Iraq from an airfield in Baghdad and is secretly supplying Iraq with tons of military equipment, supplies and other assistance, American officials said. Tehran has also deployed an intelligence unit there to intercept communications, the officials said.

The secret Iranian programs are part of a broader effort by Tehran to gather intelligence and help Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government in its struggle against Sunni militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

But when the Times drills down to detail on how the assistance is being delivered, we get into more strange times:

Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, has visited Iraq at least twice to help Iraqi military advisers plot strategy. And Iran has deployed about a dozen other Quds Force officers to advise Iraqi commanders, and help mobilize more than 2,000 Shiite militiamen from southern Iraq, American officials said.

Wait. Iran’s IGRC, and especially its Quds Force, is supposed to be still absolutely opposed to the US and even drops comments trying to disrupt the P5+1 negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program now and then. And yet, here they are, sending their head to Iraq to prop up al-Maliki as well as sending “about a dozen other Quds Force officers to advise Iraqi commanders”. Hmm. Advisers. That sounds familiar. Returning to the Washington Post story cited above:

Separately, the Pentagon said that 90 additional U.S. troops arrived in Iraq, part of a group of up to 300 military advisers that President Obama said last week he would deploy there to assess the situation before taking any further U.S. military action.

Imagine that. What many in the military would call one of our most dangerous enemies, the Quds Force, is providing exactly the same function in Iraq as US military members.

Hayes Brown and his colleagues at ThinkProgress prepared an amazing chart a couple of weeks ago describing the dizzying array of groups involved in Syria and their relationships with one another. If we were to try to add Iraq to that chart, I suspect that there simply isn’t a way to make a graphic representation that would be able to show how the relationships between a number of these groups suddenly change from being opposed to one another to supporting one another as the border is crossed.

Lost in all of the hand-wringing over the Iraqi military’s meltdown and advance of ISIS is a bit of really good news. On Monday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced, to almost no fanfare whatsoever, that the last consignment of Syria’s declared chemical weapons material left the country. While there are still issues to be addressed on recent use of chlorine bombs and the status of a few facilities and how Syria rendered them useless, this stands out as a huge achievement for diplomacy over military action. [Yes, the civil war in Syria still rages, but at least the US didn’t lob its own missiles into the fray.] And note also that in the same vein, the P5+1 process is accelerating toward the end of the initial six month negotiating period next month over Iran’s nuclear program. It would be a terrific victory for diplomacy if a final agreement is reached next month, depriving the neocons and their friends of a chance to claim that only military action can stop Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

Those two bits of diplomacy, on Syria’s chemical weapons and Iran’s nuclear technology, provide the alternative to the “Which group do we arm?” approach. “How can we avoid military action while making the world a safer place?” is a question that Washington should put forward every time the war mongers try to arm another group and the success on Syria’s chemical weapons (hopefully, along with success on Iran’s nuclear technology) can be cited as clear evidence the approach works. As for the approach of arming groups, the cases of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, among many others, stand testament to the inevitable bad outcome.

17 replies
  1. Don Bacon says:

    What country has brought massive instability to MENA?
    What country is responsible for current instability in Iraq?
    Hint: It’s the same country. USA! USA!
    The ISIS forces made their move on Iraq almost six months ago.
    The ISIS forces recently paraded captured military gear in Mosul, Iraq.
    They might as well as be displaying the US flag, judging by the US non-response.
    In Feb 2006 the US abetted the Shia mosque bombing in Sunni Samarra, elevating Shia/Sunni violence.
    Three months later Joseph Biden called for dissolution of Iraq into three parts.
    Currently ISIS is threatening the Shia mosques in Samarra.
    The US (in this era) has been supporting anti-government forces in various places in Asia, Africa and Europe (Ukraine) since Jimmy Carter’s day, in Pakistan.
    It goes on.

  2. Don Bacon says:

    The “Iran nuclear crisis” was dreamed up as a fairly recent gimmick in the long-standing US goal of regime change in Iran. It’s a goodie and has staying power. But in a pinch the US also has other grievances which have been bases for US sanctions on Iran:
    –human rights abuses
    –development of unconventional weapons and ballistic missiles
    –support for international terrorism
    –deceptive banking
    –computer and network disruption, monitoring, and tracking
    –faulty elections
    –evading sanctions

  3. orionATL says:

    why can’t we just let the religious tribes of the region fight it out?

    i am so god damned tired of losing men and money in the billions, then the trillions, on half-assed national security adventure like dick and rummy and george and the israeli fifth-columnists’ really good off day in iraq.

    we went in on a pretext. we wrecked the joint. we, sensibly in my mind but too slowly, finally decided it was time to leave.

    why go back if the shia won’t fight for themselves?

    and this sudden media discovery of corruption and authoritarian rule by an american puppet? have the media forgotten vietnam and nguyen van thieu?

    same old natsec game – we invade some small country, our military screws up royally, we see that our man gets elected potentate, we leave, the rotten government crumbles from lack of popular support.

    and now we are supposed to go back into iraq? because it’s our obligation to help an ally?

    the neo-con, natsec ferris wheel in action.

    • Don Bacon says:

      The religious tribes generally were not “fighting it out” until the US got involved. That is a myth, which Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei has also exploded recently.
      “What is happening in Iraq is not a war between Shiites and Sunnis. Arrogant powers want to use the remnants of Saddam’s regime and takfiri (ISIL) extremists to deprive Iraq of stability and tranquility,” he added. “The real fight is between those who want to bring back a U.S. presence and those who want Iraqi independence,” Khamenei said.

      • orionATL says:

        it’s true there was quiet on the religious battlefield before the americans did that nation the great kindness of engaging in “operation iraqi freedom”.

        but now, in iraq and in other middle eastern nations, politics and war have come to have religious affiliations attached to them. i expect that will change, but i don’t see it changing for many decades. the iranian revolution is old now and religion still undergirds the distribution of power there.

  4. Joanne Leon says:

    I know my head’s been spinning about it. I wouldn’t trust us if I were Iran. But then again, maybe some severe sanity strike happened in the DC vicinity. Or maybe one faction in the White House lost and the other won.

  5. ArizonaBumblebee says:

    Until recently, I believed our policies in MENA were directed at marginalizing jihadis in the region while protecting our oil supply and our longtime ally Israel. Because some of these decisions were made in different administrations under different presidents they frequently appeared to be ad hoc and incoherent. (The reader is encouraged to read in The Atlantic an excellent analysis of the contradictions in our policies in the region written by William R. Polk.) While I still believe this to part of the explanation, I now realize there was one overriding element to our policies that I didn’t give adequate attention: Iran.

    Think back to the seventies. At that time Iran was ruled by the shah, who was a close ally of both Israel and the United States. In the three and one-half decades since his fall, the American foreign policy has been obsessed by how to undue the Iranian Revolution of 1979. This contributed to Iran-Contra, and it also explains why we supported Saddam Hussein in the eighties during the Iran-Iraq war before attacking and deposing him over the following two decades. Everything we do in the region has a relationship to our determination to foment a regime change in Iran.

    America supports the rebels in Syria because Assad is supported by Iran and its ally, Hezbollah. America supports Saudi Arabia in the region, in part, because they are Iran’s principal rival in the region. This also explains why the neocons and Israelis are adamant about Iran’s nuclear weapon program. They don’t want a deal with Iran that deals only with the nuclear issue because they hope to use the dispute to justify an attack on the country followed by a regime change, thereby undoing the Iranian Revolution.

    Unfortunately for America, its desire to marginalize jihadists frequently comes into conflict with its desire to see a regime change in Tehran. That explains the crazy situation where America is consulting with the Iranians on ways to thwart ISIS, a violent jihadist group receiving financial support from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf entities. It is no accident that ISIS soldiers ride around in new vehicles and equipment, some of which has American origins. Sure, some of the equipment may have been captured, but some was purchased using Saudi funds or was extorted from those so-called moderates America supports in Syria.

    • Don Bacon says:

      I mostly agree with you on Iran, but wherever did you get the idea of the US “desire to marginalize jihadists ” when the US has used and supported jihadists along with its strong ally Saudi Arabia in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria plus other places, and Iraq currently?

  6. Stephen says:

    “Hayes Brown and his colleagues at ThinkProgress prepared an amazing chart a couple of weeks ago describing the dizzying array of groups involved in Syria and their relationships with one another. If we were to try to add Iraq to that chart…”
    Actually, Iraq is already in that ThinkProgress chart! (lower right, just below “United States”)

    • Jim White says:

      Oops. My bad. Although I suspect this more with regard to what is happening inside Syria than what is happening inside Iraq, so at least part of my point survives, I hope.

  7. ArizonaBumblebee says:

    In response to Don Bacon’s question, I think it is accurate to state that America has pursued contradictory objectives in its foreign policy on numerous occasions – frequently without giving adequate thought to how those contradictions would eventually play out. I’ll demonstrate my point with just one example from current events. President Morsi of Egypt was the first democratically elected president of Egypt. In the beginning, America supported him, but that support waned when it looked like he was taking Egypt down the road to an Islamic state. While America professes it supports democracy and freedom in the region, we were indifferent, if not supportive, of his ouster by the Egyptian military. Now America has been put in the position of supporting a repressive military dictatorship in one of the most important countries in MENA. This support could easily come back to haunt us in future years since the Muslim Brotherhood remains a potent entity and will remember how America turned its face away when the tanks rolled. So does it mean we don’t support democracy in Egypt? Maybe that would be accurate. Or, possibly, we realized that a repressive military dictatorship was preferable to another Islamic state in the region. My point is that the American decision not to intervene when President Mubarak was ousted had unforeseen consequences just as America’s decisions to support the ousters of President Diem in Vietnam, Prince Sihanouk in Cambodia, and Prime Minister Mossadegh in Iran set the stage for disasters to come. The problem, as I see it, is not that our leaders give lip service to enunciated policies but a decision matrix that fails to recognize the potential for blowback or unforeseen consequences and doesn’t adequately attempt to identify and address them.

    • Jim White says:

      Aw, rats. I had seen that there was a Sanger story on Iran but didn’t have time to read it at that moment and then forgot about it. I suppose I really should go read it, but it is just so disappointing (although not at all surprising) that we are once again getting the Laptop of Death crammed down our throats.

  8. please says:

    An interesting thought is to change the premise of the question. Rather than assume the foreign policy vis Middle East is muddled, change your assumption on what the policy is. If we assume for example that one of the objectives is disrupting Iran, then the inconsistencies melt away. Yes, the US is effectively arming and fighting the same side on two different fronts but both in goal of weakening Iranian ties.

  9. Les says:

    It’s worth watching tonight’s NBC News. Brian Williams admitted the US had been arming the Syrian rebels all along and that was reason enough that the administration’s request for a $ 500 million arms package to the rebels should be approved by Congress. It’s been many months that the network and all other major US news organizations had contended that only “non-lethal” aid was being provided to the Syrian rebels. Announcing the request for advanced arms, Williams stated matter of factly that the CIA had been arming the rebels groups anyways. So what’s the big deal?

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