Unlikely allies

Iran is the only country that has a stake in protecting the Shia population and the territorial integrity and demographic mix of both Iraq and Syria.

The latest spate of bombings, last week, by the American air-force on a cluster of villages in Amerli, in northern Iraq to prevent the slaughter of a largely Shia population by the barbaric soldiers of the Islamic Caliphate, was an un-coordinated but seemingly joint effort of American aerial support to the foot soldiers of an Iranian militia called the ‘Asaib Ahl-ul Haq’. Any suggestion of a joint operation has been quickly denied by the US administration as that would be sternly rebuked by the Gulf monarchs who cannot make up their minds as to who poses a greater threat to their survival –the IS or the US.

The options for the Americans in their fight against the IS are indeed very few and almost all of them would annoy their allies in the region. When the IS broke on to the world stage, in early June, with the capture of Mosul, the US administration was not really sure how to respond to this force. The confusion was similar to the days when the US Administration did not know how to react to the emergence of the Momeein-ul-Amin Mullah Omar as the Commander of the Faithful in Afghanistan in 1996.

The Reagan Administration that had so warmly welcomed the holy warriors (including Osama bin Laden) of the great Mujahideen against the godless Soviet Union was truly un-prepared for one of the off-shoots of this MujahideenTanzimat, the Taliban, to declare the birth of an Islamic State in Kabul. Some remnant of sanity had prevented the White House then to refuse recognition to the government of Mullah Omar in Kabul, though Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE were quick to grant recognition. It is commonly known, though unstated in the media, that the same ensemble of states (Qatar, instead of the UAE with additional help from Turkey) has now either directly or indirectly contributed to the birth and phenomenal growth of the IS.
Unfortunately for the US, the widely held belief in the Arab street is that it is the ‘Americans who have created the IS’. And such is the power of the unwritten word in the Islamic world, right from Morocco to Malaysia, that this is a firmly held conviction now.

A similar narrative had gripped the Arab street, post 9/11 that the WTC was destroyed either by the Israelis or by the Americans themselves. How does America get such a bad press in a region where it inherently believes to be the ‘force for good against evil’, is a matter that should be seriously studied by American media managers.  

Now that President Obama has rightly recognised the primary threat in the region and has put his force to fight the main enemy- the IS, over the secondary and tertiary threats that exist between the various regional powers and their proxy terrorist outfits, what exactly are his options? Who are his likely allies in this fight?

Major stakes
The obvious answer is the ‘Islamic Republic of Iran’, for that is the only country that has a stake in protecting, first and foremost the Shia population, secondly the territorial integrity and demographic mix of both Iraq and Syria and thirdly, opposes the creation of a new state of Kurdistan, in which its interests coincide with that of Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

The fact that Iran quietly nudged its protégé Noori al-Maliki out of power in Baghdad and helped the US by putting up a less despised regime in position to assuage the feelings of the Sunni power brokers and that the soldiers of Moqtada al-Sadr were mobilised to fight the IS forces and that both Ayotallah Sistani and Ayotallah Khamenie rallied their followers to fight this evil force while the Saudi Kingdom and other Gulf Monarchs were yet to make up their mind, should have clearly convinced the US administration as to who its ally is in this fight.

But admitting Iran as its frontline ally in the war against the latest terror outfit would have angered everyone from the Republican Party to the Jewish lobby to Benjamin Netanyahu, not to mention the Sunni brotherhood of the GCC. And the US president, even when he is fighting the most dangerous terrorist outfit in the world, has to answer his critics as to why is he protecting the Yazidis (in Sinjar mountains) or the Shia population and is angering the larger Sunni constituency, whose rulers have been his steadfast allies.

Now as he contemplates sending the planes to bomb the IS’s bases in Syria, President Obama is confronted with the more serious charge of supporting the most discredited president in the region – Bashar al-Assad, who has survived three years of proxy war by the combined terror outfits. Destroying the IS in Syria will certainly strengthen Assad, an ally of Iran and Russia. To say that bombing IS bases in Syria would strengthen the ‘moderate opposition’ is a meaningless argument, for there is no moderate opposition. It is like the ‘Good Taliban’ argument. Only a dead Taliban is a good Taliban.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey did not fund, arm and support any moderate opposition, nor do they want to. Unless you cut off the head of the snake, the tail keeps growing. But who is the snake depends on which side of the Gulf you are. For Saudi Arabia, Iran is the snake; for Iran it is the IS first and its sponsors next. And this perception is partly shared by President Obama, though it is unlikely to be the basis for a joint action.

The unintended consequences of American action in the region have shaped the countries far more drastically than that suited either American interests or that of its allies. And this present campaign of bombing the gravest threat to the region may unwittingly end up strengthening the rulers in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Kurdistan, a daunting prospect for America’s allies.


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