Is Iran a reliable ally for an anti-ISIS coalition?

By: Yoosef (Aso) Abbaszadeh
2015-02-05 22:54:04


Since the 1979 revolution, Iran’s Islamic regime has been actively utilising terrorism to crack down on domestic opposition voices inside and outside its borders and simultaneously adapting terrorism- based foreign policy to secure its own vicious aims worldwide, such as disseminating its Islamic revolutionary brand to other countries. Responsibility for assassinations of political opposition figures inside and abroad has been proven on several occasions. A terror wave of activities by Iran has targeted main political leaders indiscriminately, including all minorities and political opposition parties. Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, according to the IRAN HUMAN RIGHTS Documentation Centre, the Iranian regime perpetrated numerous assassinations of exiled Iranian political dissidents, in Europe as well as in other countries of southwest Asia (Internet). Apart from the main leaders such as Dr Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, Sadegh Sharafkandi, Shapour Bakhtiar and so on, the Iranian regime’s assassination campaign targeted hundreds of members of political parties of all minorities (e.g. Kurdish Parties and People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran) in neighbouring countries such as Iraq and the Kurdistan region as well as inside European borders. Iran, by establishing and funding the Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah and the Hamas movement in Palestine, has been a major source of anti-Jewish terror activities worldwide, to the extent that many senior Iranian politicians have openly stated their aim to eradicate Israel from the World’s map. 

The Iranian regime nonetheless has paradoxically on several occasions claimed to have co-operated with other regional and international powers to fight terrorism. Afghanistan and Iraq are two examples of Iran’s involvement in weakening or destroying terrorism. Some analysis suggest that Iran fearing the radical anti-Shia Taliban taking over more territory and become a threat to Shia Iran,  co-operated with US-led military intervention to defeat the Taliban in 2001 and after. However, there are resources that show that Iran has basically been helping the Taliban and other armed insurgents to manipulate the situation in Afghanistan in its favour and ultimately to prevent the US-led invasion gaining any success. Afghan officials have been complaining about Iran’s negative interventionist role in Afghanistan after 2001 invasion.

From a theoretical standpoint moreover, Iran as an ideological and strategic adversary of the West and most of the Middle East polities, especially the Gulf States, cannot be seen as a reliable ally in the fight against terrorism. In the international community, states with shared common values and with high economic and political interdependency, can join in coalitions and campaigns to secure their long term collective security and interests. Disputes over endless numbers of issues such as nuclear weapons, backing terrorism in the Middle East, a closed non-competitive rent-based economy, abusing human rights on a large scale, a constant aggressive anti-Israel policy, targeting Western countries interests worldwide, refusing any reform to democratise the government and power transition system and so forth, are only a part of concrete obstacles against the idea of Iran sharing security concerns with the outside world, especially the West.

Given all the above, Iran now has ambiguously stepped into a new battle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria after ISIS launched a major assault inside Iraq in mid-2014 which ended with a large territory, including Iraq’s second biggest city of Mosul, falling into ISIS militants hands. Iraqi’s Shia dominated government showed little capability of halting the ISIS advance towards the capital Baghdad. This caused the Iranian Shia regime to contribute its share to secure both its strategic Shia ally in Baghdad as well as preventing ISIS from becoming a possible threat to Iran’s borders, which had been announced by ISIS as a target long before attacking Iraqi soil. Iran has also been in contact with the Kurdistan Regional Government authorities to discuss the possibilities of any co-operation with Kurdish forces battling ISIS terrorist insurgents.

ISIS, however, was partly born in a religious factional conflict in the region and Iran’s role and involvement has been to enhance the religious and ethnic sectarianism that has existed for a long time. Iran has openly established relationships or sided with all Shia political and militia groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Pakistan and Afghanistan in all conflicts by all means. In fighting ISIS in Iraq, the Iranian regime’s biggest incentive is a religious-based political alliance with the Iraqi government and to protect only the Shia population threatened by ISIS. It is claimed that Iranian Revolutionary Guards helping Iraq’s Shia militia on the ground have been intentionally encouraging Shia forces to kill Sunni civilians in the realised cities and villages of Iraq. According to the Guardian Newspaper, Iran-backed Shia militia groups such as the Badr Brigade destroyed Sunni’s houses, mosques and other public premises as well as slaughtering some of the Sunni civilians in the aftermath of the ISIS withdrawal in many Sunni inhabited parts of Iraq (The Guardian, Internet). Amnesty International has reported several instances of the targeting of Sunni civilians by Iran-backed Shia armed groups in Iraq under the cover of fighting ISIS. (CBC News, Internet). Adding to all abovementioned, sectarian religious-based approach implemented by Iran in Syria with unconditional comprehensive support of Assad’s regime in order to keep its strategic ally in power, proves Iran to be a major obstacle to reach a solution for this horrifying crisis.

The Iranian regime has also reportedly put diplomatic pressure on the Kurdistan Regional Government (known as the KRG) to prevent Iranian Kurdish armed groups based inside the KRG’s territory getting involved in the war against ISIS. This double standard, moreover, with the Iranian regime posing as fighting terrorism in the region, demonstrates Iran’s selective sectarian approach policy in its so-called anti-terror cooperation, which will broaden the conflict in the Middle East in the long run. Given that, the West seems reluctant to accept Iran’s claims about its engagement in the anti-ISIS campaign in the region. It is partly because the US and other NATO members have been observing Iran’s anti-West international policy, not losing any opportunity to damage Western interests wherever it can, especially in the Middle East. Iraq after the 2003 invasion for example, experienced Iran’s interference to prevent the US-led regime change gaining success and it was justified by the Iran’s assumption that Iran could be the next target for America’s regime change campaign in the Middle East. This policy purportedly was followed by Iran backing the overthrown pro-Saddam minorities by providing plans and material to commit car bomb attacks, planting road side bombs and also supporting Al Qaida elements in Iraq (The Guardian, Internet). Thousands of civilians were killed as a result of this policy and deepened the dogmatic religious fracture in Iraq. This approach caused the West to distrust Iran more than ever and the suspicion was clear when Iran, despite its wide-spread propaganda to depict the Islamic Republic of Iran as an anti-terror actor, was not invited to any anti-ISIS conferences held by the West and the Arab states.

To sum up, the evidence available that shows Iran’s terror-based policy in both its domestic and foreign perspective and its support of a variety of terrorist organisations worldwide, supersedes any denial by the Iranian regime and this makes it difficult to consider Iran as a trustworthy ally to fight the terrorist Islamic state of Iraq and Levant Known as ISIL or ISIS. From the dynamic characteristic of the political point of view, nevertheless, it does not necessarily mean that Iran’s policy cannot change in the future.