(/sites/default/files/uploads/2015/01/Hassan_Rouhani_2.jpg)It appears that President Obama continues to believe that resuming diplomatic relationships with the Iranian ruling clerics – through efforts such as striking a final nuclear deal, lifting the UN Security Council sanctions, directly or indirectly cooperating with the Iranian military in the region – is an informed policy.
This position has led to the unprecedented level of compromises being made on the part of the Obama administration. Some of these compromises are not written in contracts or papers, but are applied implicitly behind-the-scenes and through weak leadership in the Middle East.
This strategic, geopolitical and security gamble has resulted in turning a blind eye to the Iranian cleric establishment’s role in the region, primarily in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic Republic has profited from the civil war in Iraq and instability in the region. Although President Obama is planning to send thousands of troops to Iraq to train Iraqi forces, it is the Islamic Republic which has recently signed an agreement with Iraq to allow Iran to take covert control of Iraq’s security and military establishments. After the agreement Iraqi Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi stated, “We assume Iran’s increased support for the Iraqi armed forces as a strategic necessity,”
Iran is also publicly boasting of the presence of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Iraq. The killing of one high official, Brigadier General Hamid Taqavi, in Iraq, whose funeral was attended by thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guards including General Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds forces, also reveals Tehran’s determination to ratchet up its influence in the political, security, strategic destiny of Iraq.
By examining the geopolitical reality on the ground, it appears that neither the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, nor Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi or the ruling Shiite coalition in Iraq are predominantly in control of their state’s policies.
Currently, two crucial figures appear to be shaping the national security of Iraq and Syria: Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force (a branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps which operates in foreign countries), and the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Most recently, Iran’s political and military actions in Baghdad or Damascus reveal that the sovereignty of Iraq or Syria is significantly less of a crucial matter for Iran’s Supreme Leader and Suleimani.
Although the Islamic Republic denied using Iraq’s airspace to launch airstrikes in the Iraqi province of Diyala, Iranian leaders confirmed the airstrikes. The Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour further asserted Iran’s role in Iraq by stating: “We will not allow conditions in Iraq to descend to the level of Syria, which has been created by foreign players,” and he added “and certainly our assistance [to Iraq] is stronger than our assistance to Syria, because they are nearer to us.”
When it comes to Syria, the Islamic Republic continues to provide military, financial, advisory, and intelligence assistance to the government of Bashar al-Assad and it has been shaping the policies of Damascus through various modes of power and apparatuses. The military armaments of the Syrian government have been repeatedly strengthened by Iran’s manufactured arms. Regarding the Syrian missile-production facilities, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force, boasted recently, “The missile production plants in Syria have been built by Iran and the missiles designed by Iran are being produced there.” With the U.S. acquiescence, Ayatollah Khamenei and Suleimani experience free reign and empowerment to shape the Iraqi and Syrian government’s policies.
The Obama administration’s geopolitical and tactical shift in making compromises to Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions will inevitably lead to unanticipated long-term repercussions. First of all, it is crucial to point out that Iran is fundamentally reshaping the security institutions in Iraq and Syria by its increased involvement. The Iranian leaders will be further cementing their religious, political, military and institutional footprints in Iraq and Syria.
Secondly, the Islamic Republic has been playing a crucial role in remobilizing as well as reactivating the Shiite militia groups in Iraq. This will lead to the reinforcement of the sectarian divide in Iraq which has plagued the country for many years. Iran’s pro-government Shiite militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen are fundamental pillars for advancing the Iranian leaders’ regional plans.
Finally, through the revival of Shiite militias, it is unrealistic to contend that Iran will not be seeking to create another Hezbollah in Iraq. The recent challenges that Iranian leaders have encountered with regards to the rise of the Islamic State make them recalculate Tehran’s need to ratchet up its religious, economic, security and political influence in Iraq. Tehran has invested billions of dollars in Iraq’s security and military forces. The mobilization of the Shiite militia in Iraq can provide the platform for the establishment of another powerful proxy Shiite group in Iraq which is a replica of Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
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