As the challenge of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, formerly ISIS or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) arises, the United States is likely to make several decisions as to how to combat these radical Islamist groups that aim to transform the Middle East for the worst.
ISIL is a dangerous radical Islamist group that broke files with al-Qaida. However, many have estimated that it is stronger than al-Qaida since it has already established a territory (that it calls the Caliphate), it has raised large quantities of money as a result of bank lootings in Mosul and other cities in Iraq, extortions, kidnappings, and they have even received money from countries such as Qatar.
Likewise, ISIL/ISIS is better equipped militarily as they possess weapons and many of its members are former soldiers of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.
ISIS/ISIL’s successes are related to two phenomena: first the deterioration of Sunni-Shiite relations in Iran aggravated by Iraq’s former Prime Minister Noura Al Maliki’s undemocratic and sectarian rule. Likewise, the uprising against Bashar al-Assad in Syria enabled ISIS/ISIL to arise as a real force to depose President Bashar al-Assad.
ISIS/ISIL is ruthless and cruel as it has been demonstrated by the beheading, crucifixion and torture of individuals (including children) considered to be infidels or not loyal to ISIS/ISIL rule. Americans already witnessed the cruel beheading by ISIS/ISIL of American journalist Jim Foley.
As the United States is seeking alliances in the region to fight and eliminate ISIS/ISIL, it is important to take into account a number of elements.
If the U.S administration considers cooperation with Iran to confront this challenge, it is important to remember that Iran is not a positive player in the region. Iran encouraged Maliki to rule in a sectarian way and it also funded Shiite terrorist groups in Iraq that aggravated sectarian tensions.
Iran has also helped turn the Syrian civil war not in a fight for democracy and freedom against a tyrant but as a Shiite/Sunni sectarian war. Iran’s proxy Hezbollah supported Assad and helped commit major atrocities.
Iran continues to be a big supporter of terror, it has helped Hezbollah gain ground in Lebanon and has continued to arm Hamas, up to the point that it enabled the group to launch a war against Israel in the most recent conflict.
Most importantly, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was reported in the Iranian press to say that Tehran would be willing to join an international coalition against ISIS/ISIL, provided that America lifts all sanctions against the country.
Although Zarif later denied it, it is obvious that this is Iran’s intention. Iran would offer help to defeat ISIS/ISIL, which is in its own interest to do so but in exchange will ask to lift the sanctions, which means that what Iran is seeking is a green light to build its military nuclear program. Iran can easily tell the U.S that they will cooperate in exchange for the nuclear program.
As the region becomes more conflictive, Iran is less likely to drop its nuclear aspirations. If Iran becomes nuclear, the entire region will go nuclear in an area where its multiple conflicts could eventually lead to a major catastrophe.
It is crucial that our next steps are in order to prevent Iran from becoming the puppet master of the entire region while assisting in destruction of ISIS.
As ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State is facing Iran on the ground, there is fear that since no deal has been made with Iran to dismantle a single centrifuge in the nuclear program, Iran may gain more power in the region without repercussions from the United States. Despite bipartisan pressure from Congress to move forward with conditional sanctions last spring, there was not enough support to move forward with the sanctions. The fear of a veto from President Obama also stalled the legislation.
Whatever route the U.S. has in dismantling the Islamic State, we must continue to keep our eyes on Iran before they have a full nuclear program in place.
Tara Laxer contributed to this article.
Luis Fleischman has worked for a number of organizations that deal with issues related to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and in general the Middle East. He has also worked as adviser for the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy on issues related to Latin America, hemispheric security, democracy, and U.S policy in Latin America. He is the author of "Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Threat to U.S. Security." Fleischman is an adjunct professor of sociology and political science at Florida Atlantic University Honors College and FAU Lifelong Learning Society. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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