Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Iran, Like the Rest, Is Not Blameless in Middle
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, June 17, 2015
When the United States government declared its war on
Afghanistan in October 2001, thus taking the first step in its so-called
‘war on terror’, following the devastating attacks of September 11 earlier
that year, Iran jumped on board.
Then Iranian President Mohammed
Khatami, dubbed a reformist,
provided substantial assistance in the US effort aimed at defeating the
Taliban, an ardent enemy of Iran and Afghan Shia. Indeed, the Taliban’s
aggressive policies included an anti-Shia drive, which resulted in a massive
refugee problem. Tens of thousands of Afghan Shia sought refuge in Iran.
Khatami’s ‘friendly’ gesture towards the anti-terror crusade lead by
George W. Bush was not by any means an Iranian departure from a supposed
policy of non-intervention in the region. Iran is a country with porous
borders, political and strategic interests, serious and legitimate fears,
but also unquestionable ambitions.
Iran’s intervention in
Afghanistan never ceased since then, and is likely to continue, especially
following the US withdrawal, whenever it takes place.
Iran’s earlier role in Afghanistan ranged from the arrest of al-Qaeda
suspects, sought by Washington, to training Afghan soldiers, to direct
intervention in the country’s politics so as to ensure that the country’s
politics are aligned to meet Iranian expectations.
None of this
should come as a surprise. Iran has been under massive scrutiny since the
Iranian revolution in 1979. It has been threatened, sanctioned, punished,
and for nearly a decade fought a massive war with Iraq. Nearly half a
million soldiers, and an estimated equal number of civilians perished in the
‘long war’ when Iraq and Iran, using World War II tactics, sparred over
territories, waterways access, resources, regional dominance and more. Both
parties used conventional and non-conventional weapons to win the ugly
conflict. Neither did.
But regardless of the thinking behind Iran’s
current regional ambitions, one cannot pretend that Iran is an innocent
force in the Middle East, solely aimed at self-preservation. This reading is
as incorrect as that, championed by Israel and its remaining neoconservative
friends in Washington, which see Iran as a threat that must be eradicated
for the Middle East to achieve peace and stability.
When the US
invaded Iraq in 2003,
Iran immediately moved to rearrange the country’s politics to suit its
interests. It poured massive funds and a limitless arsenal to aid its
allies, Shia political parties and notorious militias. Expectedly, Iran
wanted to ensure that the American debacle in Iraq deepens, so Tehran
doesn’t become the
next US war destination. To do so, however, Iran, jointly, although
indirectly with the Americans, savaged the once strongest Arab country.
The Shia government and its numerous militias killed, butchered, abused
and humiliated Sunnis, especially tribes, which were seen as particularity
influential following the destruction of the Baath regime and other centers
of supposed Sunni seats of power.
That reductionist understanding
of Iraqi society was both championed by Washington and Tehran. The horrible
consequences of that understanding raised an unprecedented
animosity towards Iran, and, expectedly towards Shia in general
throughout much of the region.
However, the key role played by
Hezbollah, a mainly Shia party and fighting force, in ending the Israeli
occupation of Lebanon in 2000, and driving the Israelis out once more in
2006, balanced out the damage inflicted by Iran’s destructive role in Iraq.
Hezbollah’s ability to keep Israel at bay was more than enough to challenge
the sectarian argument.
Things changed however with the arrival of
the so-called Arab Spring. Iran and its regional enemies, in the Gulf, and
later Turkey, perceived the upheaval in the Arab world as a serious threat,
but also an opportunity.
It was a
great game par excellence, which is now on full display in Yemen, and of
Syria and elsewhere.
While one may argue that ultimately the
ongoing wars in the Middle East are not rooted in any sectarian tendencies,
but the outcome of a political power play that span decades, there is no
denial that the sectarian component of the war is now a defining one, and
that Iran, like the Gulf, Turkey, Israel, the US and their Western allies,
are all implicated.
They may all claim some rational dialectic
through which to justify or explain their involvement, but few can claim
innocence in the suffering of millions of people.
Iraq-Iran war (1980-88), the US stood on the side of Iraq, providing
logistical and military support. Iran has no trust of the US or respect for
its foreign policy. But Tehran also understands that the US, despite its
waning influence, will remain an important party in the Middle East, and
therefore has tailored its policies with that understanding in mind. Iran
cooperates with the US when its suits both parties interests, as they did in
Afghanistan, Iraq, and now against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS).
From Tehran’s viewpoint, its regional expansion can be partly seen
as a defense mechanism: a powerful and influential Iran would decrease the
chances of a US-Israeli aggression. Just recently, the
European Union top diplomat called on Iran to “play a major, major but
positive, role on Syria in particular, to encourage the regime to ...
(support) a Syrian-led transition.”
For Iran, such statements are
political leverage which, to a degree, indicate the success of its strategy
in Syria, one that involved major military support of the Assad government,
and direct military intervention. It’s irrefutable that Iran’s role in Syria
has been following the same sectarian lines that it followed, and continues
to adhere to in Iraq. While Iran’s fight against the brutes of IS is
undeniable, Iran’s responsibility in the rise of Sunni militarism in the
first place must also not be denied.
While Iran is sustaining
several fronts in its current role in the Middle East great game, it hopes
to translate its palpable regional ascendency into political capital, one
that the Iranian government wants to translate to a final nuclear deal
before June 30. That deal could spare Iran further conflict with the West,
or at least lessen the fervor of war championed by rightwing Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies.
Current media and
political discourses attempting to rationalize the multiple conflicts in the
Middle East region tend to invest in one singular reading, which tends to
demonize one party and completely spare others. While the role of regional
actors in supporting extremists in Syria and Iraq, which lead to the
formation of IS is known and openly discussed, Iran cannot be spared the
Iran is part and parcel of ongoing
conflicts, has contributed to some, reacted to others; it labored to defeat
US ambitions, but also cooperated with Washington when their interests
intersected. It is as sectarian as the rest, and abashedly so.
This is not an attempt at implicating Iran, but an attempt at an honest
reading into a war involving many parties, whose hands are equally bloody.
- Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over
20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant,
an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His
latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto
Press, London). His website is:
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