Although Iraqi forces are making limited gains against ISIL in the strategic city of Tikrit, a frightening reality is emerging: Iran’s influence in Iraq and throughout the region is increasing.
With America “leading from behind,” Iran—the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism and the patron of extremist Shiite militias that killed potentially thousands of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan—has taken the opportunity to lead from the front. Iranian-backed militias—coordinated by Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officers—are the vanguard of Iraq’s ground offensive against ISIL.
The result is that Iran’s malign influence is on the rise and is fueling the sectarian conflict that helped create the current chaos in the Middle East. Political reconciliation in Iraq and Syria—which is key to the long-term strategy to defeat ISIL and other extremist terrorist groups—will be impossible if Iran’s aggression remains unchecked.
- Iran Occupies Iraq: “While Washington focuses on Iran-U.S. nuclear talks, the Islamic Republic is making a major but little-noticed strategic advance. Iran’s forces are quietly occupying more of Iraq in a way that could soon make its neighbor a de facto Shiite satellite of Tehran.” (Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, 3/11/15)
- U.S. Fears Iran Military Influence Growing in Iraq: “Iran’s military is playing a significant role in helping Iraq drive the Islamic State from Saddam Hussein’s hometown, raising U.S. concerns about growing Iranian influence and increased sectarian tensions in Iraq.” (USA Today, 3/2/15)
- Dempsey: U.S. Worries About Iran-Backed Militias in Iraq: “Iran is playing a helpful role against Islamic State militants in Iraq now, but once the extremists are vanquished, Tehran-backed militias could undermine efforts to unify the country, the [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey] said Wednesday.” (Washington Post, 3/11/15)
- Little Progress in Key Plank of Obama Anti-IS Strategy: U.S. military and intelligence officials “are seeing little sign of any political accommodation between the country’s Shiite-led government and an alienated Sunni population…. Instead of reaching out to Sunnis, the Iraqi government has bolstered its already close ties to Iran and to Iranian-backed Shiite militias that have been credibly accused of massacring Sunnis, U.S. officials acknowledge. The Iraqi military’s reliance on Shiite militias this week to retake Tikrit, a Sunni stronghold, has complicated the prospects of political reconciliation, experts say.” (Associated Press, 3/12/15)
- Generals: Iran’s Influence is Growing: “Iranian-supported militias make up the majority of ground forces now striking against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the Iraqi city of Tikrit, in a growing shift of influence in the region.” (Washington Examiner, 3/4/15)
Not to mention Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps unit, the Qods force, was on the ground near Tikrit advising local commanders, as he has been since the beginning of this conflict. Iran’s influence in Iraq is undeniable; the Wall Street Journal reports that “Iran took a leading role in the Iraqi military’s largest offensive yet to reclaim territory from Islamic State, throwing drones, heavy weaponry and ground forces into the battle while the U.S. remained on the sidelines.”
Signifying Iran’s growing influence, Reuters reports that as Iraqi Shiites increasingly rely on Iranian militias in the fight against ISIL, those militias and Tehran are becoming increasingly influential in determining Iraq’s future.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy recently spoke on local Bakersfield news saying,
“This Administration has said Yemen is the place to show how their foreign policy works. Well, you know what? That has collapsed and been overthrown. And who has been behind it? Iran.… Iran has come and filled the void in Iraq as well because this Administration wanted to pull out too soon. And then you saw [ISIL] come in and Iran. When America does not lead, the world becomes unsafe.”
The President’s strategy has allowed Iran, in the words of the Washington Post Editorial Board, “to take another step toward replacing the terrorist regime [ISIL] with its own malevolent hegemony.” Nature abhors a vacuum, and in the absence of American leadership, Iranian power is filling the void.