On September 10, U.S. President Barack Obama laid out the U.S. strategy for confronting the emerging threat from ISIS, the terrorist extremist group that market itself as an “Islamic State” and is also known as ISIL. The objective was clear, to “degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”
The outlined U.S. strategy consisted of four parts, but nowhere did it address the theocratic regime in Iran, the root cause of the current rise of extremist terrorist groups, like ISIS, in Syria, Iraq and Middle East. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reiterated this reality in a recent interview with NPR on September 6, saying, “Iran is a bigger problem than ISIS.”
The financial and material support the Iranian regime has provided for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s slaughtering of his people, as well as Tehran’s political backing and interference in Iraq in favor of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarian and authoritarian rule, created the conditions for the rapid rise of ISIS.
In 2010, U.S. General Ray Odierno warned that an Iranian-backed Shia terror group continued to remain a threat in Iraq. In 2011, then Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said with regard to leaving behind U.S. Forces in Iraq, “Iran is very directly supporting extremist Shia groups which are killing our troops …. And there’s no reason … for me to believe that they’re going to stop that as our numbers come down.”
And then on September 15 of this year, the Wall Street Journal reported: “In recent days, leaders of Iraqi Shiite militias close to Tehran, including Kata’b Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army, have publicly warned Washington that U.S. soldiers could be targeted if the White House pushes ahead with its military offensive against Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.”
On the same day, Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tweeted, “If the US enters Iraq and Syria without permission, they will go through the same problem as they did over the past 10 years in Iraq.”
Remember, this is the same Iranian regime that is the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism, with the same theocratic leaders who were behind the terrorist bombings of two separate Marine Barracks in Lebanon in 1983, killing 299 Americans.
Since 2011, financial, military and political investment in Syria and Iraq, as a complement to its decades-long support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine, have been essential components in the Iranian regime’s expansionist foreign policy, with the stated aim of resurrecting a fundamentalist version of Persian Empire. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sees, in his own words, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon as Tehran’s “strategic depth.”
This strategic depth was dealt a major below after the popular uprisings against authoritarian rulers that became known as the Arab Spring, which extremist groups like ISIS have now hijacked to advance their own barbaric and medieval agenda.
Iran’s rush to acquire nuclear weapons capacity and its hard-headed insistence on not dismantling its enrichment program in accordance with successive UN Security Council resolutions must be viewed in this context. The IAEA’s latest confidential report states that Iran has failed to cooperate with a long-running UN investigation into a possible military dimension of its nuclear program and has not addressed concerns about suspected nuclear weapons research.
Under these circumstances, it would be a grave mistake to provide the Iranian regime with an opportunity to regain its lost dominance in Iraq by engaging it in the fight against ISIS. Such a misguided policy would be tantamount to Allies Forces cooperating with Japan to defeat Hitler after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In addition, any cooperation with Iran on counterterrorism efforts in the region will only embolden Tehran and encourage tactics to escape the current nuclear impasse.
If we add to the above the intensified domestic repression and the recent sharp increase in the number of executions and public hangings in Iran, we see that the Iranian regime is not an emerging regional superpower but actually as weak as it has ever been in its three decades of existence.
Hence, it is not only in the U.S. national interest but also in the interest of the international community to step up pressure on Iran’s theocratic leaders, instead of engaging in reciprocal dialogue about lifting all sanctions.
In his strategy to defeat ISIS, Obama announced that the United States will ramp up its assistance to the Syrian opposition. A continuation of this necessary step to fight extremism and terrorism is to extend similar political support to the Iranian Resistance and those who are fighting the medieval regime in Iran in pursue of a free, democratic and secular Iran.
As a first step, Obama must take an urgent step to honor his previous pledge of protection given to the members of the Iranian Resistance in Camp Liberty, whom the U.S. Forces in Iraq recognized as Protected Persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention in 2004 and the UN declared asylum-seekers entitled to protection under international law.
On June 27, a delegation of former U.S. Military Officials, including General Hugh Shelton, Chairman of the U.S. Army Joint Chiefs of Staff (1997-2001), General George Casey, Chief of Staff of the United States Army and Commander of Multi-National Force – Iraq (2004-2007), and General James Conway, the 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps, participated in a major gathering in support of the Iranian Resistance in Paris. Addressing the 100,000 Iranians gathered in Paris for the cause of freedom, Shelton said the “U.S. made a pledge, a commitment, a promise to the residents of Ashraf. The United States has failed to keep its promise.”
At the same gathering, Casey emphasized in his speech that the Iranian regime goal is to ensure the failure of the U.S. to help Iraq build a government that is representative of all groups in Iraq for a Baghdad government that is “friendly and supportive” of Iran to ensure its influence in the region.
Listening to these vastly experienced generals, Obama should add a fifth point to his announced strategy, one that, in the short-term, calls on the new Iraqi government to immediately lift the inhumane siege and severe restrictions imposed on members of the Iranian Resistance in Camp Liberty, Iraq at the behest of the Iranian regime and that declares the camp a U.N. refugee camp.
The long-term part of this strategy should include the U.S. declaring that it stands with the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in its efforts to bring freedom and democracy in Iran and supports the ten-point plan of NCRI’s President-elect Maryam Rajavi for a future Iran that promotes freedom, democracy, free speech, human rights, equal rights for men and women, a stop to Iran’s nuclear program, and peaceful coexistence with its neighbor. Moreover, U.S. diplomats should insist that any comprehensive nuclear deal must include Iran respecting the U.N. Security Council resolutions and suspending all uranium enrichment as well as ratifying IAEA Additional Protocol.
The first step on that direction is for Obama to deny Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani entry to the United States for the annual U.N. General Assembly until Iran heeds the international community’s concerns with regard to its nuclear weapons program and support for terrorism.
In his speech to the nation on September 10, Obama said “This is American leadership at its best: we stand with people who fight for their own freedom.”
Now is the time for Obama to back these noble words with courageous action, something he failed to in 2009 when millions of Iranians took to the streets to demand democratic change in Iran, only to be crushed by the regime.
Lt. Cdr. Esmaeil Abnar is a retired Iranian navy officer in London, who served for 18 years in the Shat al-Arab waterway prior to 1979.