By Sal Bommarito
Iraq and Iran may the keys to stopping ISIS. Both countries, along with Syria, are at the greatest risk from logistical and religious perspectives, but they both possess military capabilities that could stem the tide of the terrorists. The big question is whether they will do what is necessary to assist the U.S.-led coalition.
Iraq’s participation in the ISIS war is going to be hampered by its fluid and contentious religious issues. Before Iraq was invaded and occupied by the U.S., Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, oppressed the Shiite majority. Since his downfall, democratic elections enabled the Shiite majority to take control of the government and exclude Sunnis from key political positions. Iraqi Sunnis and Sunni insurgents have been conducting terrorist activity in protest and opposition to the sitting government ever since the fall of Saddam.
ISIS has temporarily diverted Iraqis from their civil war. The situation is interesting because the government has asked Sunnis throughout the country to resist the interlopers. But, Iraqi Sunnis have not been enthusiastic about assisting the Shiite-controlled government.
Exacerbating the problem is the competence and loyalty of Iraqi forces needed to fight against ISIS. In earlier battles, many Iraqi soldiers laid down their arms and deserted. Was this because of fear or Sunni/Iraqi soldier solidarity with the ISIS Sunnis? No one can be sure. But, the ability of Iraqis to provide ground support for U.S. airstrikes seems dubious at best.
If ISIS is successful, the Shiite government of Iraq will fall and be replaced with a Sunni-dominated group, possibly consisting of some Iraqi Sunnis. This will result in a new chapter of the civil war. If ISIS is defeated, Iraqi Sunnis together with insurgent supporters will enflame sectarian violence that could eventually destabilize the government.
Iran is dominated by Shiites, and it is generally supportive of all Shiites in the region, supporting governments and terrorist groups.
Iran must be concerned with the advances of ISIS as the terrorists are but a stone’s throw away from the Iranian border. Yet, Iran has not shown any inclination to enter the fray, probably because the U.S. is leading the effort against ISIS. Iran’s attitude is also greatly influenced by its desire to secure Bashar al-Assad’s position, the president of Syria. The U.S. wants Assad to step down potentially causing another rift with Iran.
It is inconceivable that Iran will not link any support of the coalition with a decrease in economic sanctions. And, Iran will also be seeking “flexibility” relating to its nuclear program. Many people around the world, including Israelis and Sunnis in the region, are concerned about the existential threat of an Iranian nuclear capability. And so, they hope President Obama does not rescind sanctions or make it easier for Iran to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for Iran’s support in fighting ISIS.
Iraq and Iran are probably going to be critical in the war against ISIS. Individually or together, they could provide ground troops needed to fight the terrorists, although Iraq’s contributions are not expected to be great for the foreseeable future. Iran, on the other hand, could provide significant resistance to ISIS advancements immediately.
The questions are if and when will Iran decide to move against ISIS. An invasion of Iran would certainly inspire a military response, but ISIS leadership knows this. So, although Iran is surely on their hit list, ISIS must be careful not to move too soon.
In the meantime, the U.S. is dropping bombs and making little progress. The president’s mission is not proceeding well.