There has never been any doubt in my mind that elements within Iran’s security services have facilitated ISIS,” Col. Derek Harvey told Foreign Policy, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, a terrorist network-cum-jihadist army that has now taken over territory in Syria and Iraq that, when combined, is roughly the size of Jordan. “When given opportunities to interdict, or have an effect, [the Iranians] have refrained.”
Harvey, a retired Army intelligence officer and senior Central Command advisor, was emphatic that any solution for containing the rising threat of ISIS, an al Qaeda breakaway group, must foreclose on the possibility of U.S.-Iranian collusion. His comments were echoed by two other high-ranking U.S. military officials who served extensively in the Iraq theater in the last decade and believe that Iran was the principal spoiler for American-led reconstruction efforts after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
These reminders from Iraq war veterans come at a time when debate rages in the U.S. policy establishment and commentariat over whether or not the Obama administration should adopt an “enemy of my enemy” logic in Iraq and work with Washington’s 30-year foe in Tehran.
Secretary of State John Kerry floated this idea in an interview on June 16 with Katie Couric, saying, “We’re open to discussions if there is something constructive that can be contributed by Iran, if Iran is prepared to do something that is going to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq and ability of the government to reform.” President Barack Obama, in remarks delivered on June 19, seemed to rule out a direct military coordination with the Islamic Republic but nevertheless struck a similar chord of possible future cooperation. “Iran can play a constructive role if it is helping to send the same message to the Iraqi government that we’re sending, which is that Iraq only holds together if it’s inclusive,” the commander-in-chief said, before adding that Iran’s “hot and heavy” military support for the Assad regime has gravely worsened conditions in Syria — implying that what is transpiring in Iraq now is spillover from that conflict next door.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also seemed amenable to an entente cordiale with the Great Satan. In a televised address on Iranian state media broadcast on June 14, he appeared to invite U.S. military intervention in Iraq to stem the ISIS assault and presented (not for the first time) Iran as a partner in what was once known as the global war on terror: “We all should practically and verbally confront terrorist groups.”
Yet American veterans of the decade-long Iraq war and occupation say that the idea is both preposterous and dangerous. Iran, they maintain, has long played a double game in Mesopotamia and the Levant, both enabling Sunni extremists to infiltrate countries such as Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon and then swooping in as the only …read more