The Iraqi military announced that it would begin to share “security and intelligence” information on ISIS with Iran, Russia, and Syria, a move that further muddies the waters in the war against Islamic State.
Iran and Russia have already agreed to fight “terrorists” in Syria, which could mean that Russia’s commitment to President Assad might include fighting the non-ISIS rebels supported by the U.S. As far as Assad is concerned, anyone who opposes him is a terrorist.
But the de facto alliance of Russia, Syria, Iran, and Iraq will strengthen the hand of President Assad as the U.S. is being shunted to the side in the fight against ISIS.
A statement issued by the Joint Operations Command said the countries will “help and cooperate in collecting information about the terrorist Daesh group,” using the Arabic acronym for the IS group.
Iraq has long had close ties with neighboring Iran and has coordinated with Tehran in fighting IS — which controls about a third of Iraq and Syria in a self-declared caliphate. Iran has sent military advisers to Iraq and worked closely with Shiite militias battling the IS group.
A U.S.-led coalition has meanwhile been conducting airstrikes against IS in Iraq and Syria as well as training and advising Iraqi forces, but U.S. officials insist they are not coordinating their efforts with Iran.
The U.S. also refuses to cooperate with Syrian President Bashar Assad, who Washington has insisted should step down. Russia and Iran have provided crucial support to Assad since Syria’s uprising began in 2011.
The Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S.-led campaign against the IS group, Col. Steve Warren, said the U.S. remains committed to working with Iraq to defeat the extremists.
“We recognize that Iraq has an interest in sharing information on ISIL with other governments in the region who are also fighting ISIL,” Warren said, using another acronym for the militant group. “We do not support the presence of Syrian government officials who are part of a regime that has brutalized its own citizens.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on Sunday, said in response to the Iraqi statement that “all of the efforts need to be coordinated. This is not yet coordinated.”
Kerry sounds a little peeved that the U.S. has been shouldered aside by our Iraqi allies. In truth, Iranian President Rouhani is correct when he says that Islamic State won’t be defeated without the government of Syria, which the U.S. refuses to support.
As Russia significantly increases its support of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Sunday that backing Syria’s “central government” is the only way to defeat ISIS.
In Syria, when our first objective is to drive out terrorists and combating terrorists to defeat them, we have no solution other than to strengthen the central authority and the central government of that country as a central seat of power.”
“So I think today everyone has accepted that President Assad must remain so that we can combat the terrorists.”
“However, as soon as this movement reaches the various levels of success and starts driving out the terrorists on a step-by-step basis, then other plans must be put into action so as to hear the voices of the opposition as well.”
Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, Iran has put its full weight behind Bashar al-Assad’s regime, supporting him politically, financially and militarily.
Russia, Iran and al-Assad are united in their opposition to ISIS. But al-Assad, since the beginning of the conflict, has used the term “terrorists” to refer to groups that the United States and other Western powers would consider part of the legitimate opposition.
One of the difficulties in attracting “secular” rebels to the U.S. training program is that recruits are told they will only be able to fight Islamic State, not the forces of President Assad. Since most Syrians want to rid themselves of the dictator, most recruits are from neighboring countries.
Rouhani is being disingenuous when he says that Assad would be eased out down the road. First of all, the Iranians have no say in the matter. Russia has hinted that such will be the case, but that’s not likely unless they can be guaranteed that Assad’s successor is as pro-Russian as he is. Secondly, how likely is it that Iran will abandon Assad after pouring billions into propping him up?
This is another sign of America’s waning influence in the Middle East.