The Iraqi Security Force, which has accepted millions of dollars’ worth of weapons and equipment from the United States, now has begun a series of cooperative missions with Iran’s violent Shiite militias to overtake the territory lost to ISIS this past summer. Held by ISIS since June of 2014, Tikrit is seen as a strategic necessity for future attempts to retake large portions of Iraq. However with over 20 thousand Sunnis fleeing from the Shiite militias already and numerous reports of the Iranians killing innocent civilians around Tikrit, many local groups fear this attack will only further sectarian fighting in the area. The Obama administration, despite refusing to add airstrike support because of Iranian involvement, has been otherwise hush about the Iranian infiltration and has continued to order hundreds of US advisors to remain assisting in the overthrow of Tikrit.
Sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims played an important role in the emergence of ISIS. The third American approved Shiite Prime Minister since the 03 invasions Nouri al- Maliki promised to increase Sunni representation in the army and central government. However, Prime Minister al-Maliki’s detention of thousands of Sunnis without trial, destruction of a democratically chosen Sunni party, and the bombing of Sunni civilian areas further alienated the majority of the afflicted Sunni population. Maliki wanted the safety in numbers that his Shia neighbors offered. While embracing Iran, Maliki put distance between his government and Iraq’s Sunni minority.
The number one criticism of Maliki was that he was too involved with Iran, where he had lived for the 20 years prior to being elected P.M. of Iraq. Many also speculated that all the legislation coming from Baghdad was actually coming from Iran. Although speculative, there is no argument that Iranian troops and plain clothed militias were routinely able to cross the border and attack the Sunni population of Iraq. Regardless of the deplorable actions of ISIS, many in the Sunni areas of Iraq believed they would be treated better by ISIS than under the oppressive, Iranian influenced Iraqi government. This assault on the rights of Sunni Iraqis paved the way for ISIS to acquiesce large swathes of Sunni Iraq with little resistance.
Now in 2015, The United States, just days after a Kuwaiti report revealing that President Obama threatened to shoot down Israeli jets if they engaged Iranian nuclear facilities, finds itself in the familiar state of Middle Eastern confusion. Iran, considering itself the protector of the Shiite Islam world, has consistently attempted to broaden their own power by involving itself with the Shiite government of Iraq. Swearing vengeance against the Sunni people of Iraq, the Shiite militias have already begun to indiscriminately murder Sunni women and children on the outskirts of Tikrit. If the Iranian forces are successful in taking Tikrit, many Sunni and Kurdish Iraqis will be fearful about the conquering Iranian army currently marching though their country. In a country torn to shreds by sectarian warfare, an increase in divisive violence is highly probable.
America’s closest allies in the regions, Israel and the Kurds of Northern Iraq, have already voiced their terror regarding the Obama administration’s coordination with Iran. Israel, fearful of Iran’s growing nuclear capabilities, finds itself blocked by the United States to protect itself from a country which openly threatens to annihilate the Jewish people. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke late last week to the US congress, voicing his fears about the new, positive American/ Iranian relationship. Likewise, the Kurds, who have protected their most prized city of Kirkuk since Iraqi troops fled from the city in June, have been told by the Iranian militias that the land still belongs to the Shiite population. The complication has many in the Kurdish community as fearful of what a post-ISIS Iraq would look like as they are of the current scenario.
Once again the Obama administration is tolerating illegal actions that constitute a proxy war. Iraqs initial reliance on Iran was a crucial cause for the emergence of ISIS, and this latest invasion by troops predominately from Iran will undoubtedly only cause increased tensions between Shiite and Sunni groups. What is more disturbing, this administration is happy to throw away tested, trusted allies in exchange for religious extremists. Israel and the Kurds have been left to wonder if their close friends in America just abandoned them for the holocaust denying, genocide promising Islamic republic of Iran. They may be right.