By Amir Basiri
If you think the principle “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” applies to Iranian regime with respect to the Islamic State—also known as ISIS or ISIL—think again. The reality is that the Iranian regime has been taking advantage of the onslaught of the Islamic State to further its own agendas in the region. Reciprocally, the Islamic State owes much of its recent gains in power, territory and riches to the Iranian regime and its cohorts in the region.
Iran reaps the benefits of the Islamic State’s rampage
As a state-sponsor of terrorism and fundamentalism, the Iranian regime has always been the main beneficiary of chaos and violence in the region. In the case of the Islamic State, the extremist group has provided the Iranian regime with the perfect environment to carry out its plots and machinations in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria.
In Iraq, the rise of the Islamic State has been Iran’s excuse to surge troops through the porous Iran-Iraq border and notch up the activities of its proxy groups in the country. The stated goal is to fight terrorism and protect holy shrines, but rather than fighting the Islamic State, the real intention behind the Iranian regime’s actions is to expand and strengthen its hold on Iraqas the new government takes shape.
Similarly in Syria, under the same pretext, Iran has infested the country with IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) and Hezbollah forces in order to shore up embattled President Bashar al-Assad against democratic opposition forces and elongate a conflict that has seen the death of nearly 200,000 people in the past three years.
While the world’s attention is directed towards the Islamic State’s brutality, Iran has also been using its agents in the Iraqi government and military to strike against Camp Liberty, where thousands of members of Iran’s main opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), are residing. Iran considers PMOI as its main foe and the ultimate threat to the pillars of its rule.
Iran is also sharing the spotlight of human rights violation with the Islamic State, allowing it to shrug off some of the criticism that is perpetually directed its way. Under the smokescreen caused by the widely-broadcasted graphic images of Islamic State’s savagery, Tehran’s rulers have been deliberately continuing the brutal repression of the Iranian people at home.
What’s more, turning to the oldest trick in its playbook, Iran is now using the Islamic State as leverage in the ongoing negotiations with world powers over its illicit nuclear program, and is trying to force its counterparts into allowing it to retain the capability to obtain nuclear weapons in exchange for its participation in the fight against the Islamic State.
With all profits that the Islamic State has brought home for the Iranian regime, it’s hard to imagine Iran as a contributing partner in efforts to eliminate the group’s threat.
The Islamic State owes its rise to the Iranian regime
Some might argue as a radical Sunni group, the Islamic State is the enemy of the radical Shiite clerics ruling Iran. But Iran has long proven that it is willing to align with Sunni extremists to further its ends. For years, Iran has been helping Sunni extremists infiltrate countries such as Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to subsequently step forth and present itself as a shield against the mess it has helped create.
The Islamic State fits in this scenario perfectly: Iran’s leaders have previously granted support and shelter to elements of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the precursor to the Islamic State, and allowed it to survive and grow.
During three years of Syrian conflict, Iran-backed forces leading the fight on behalf the Assad regime have intentionally allowed the Islamic State to grow and flourish and used it against moderate groups that are striving for the establishment of a democratic government in Syria.
In Iraq, the sectarian-oriented policies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which were carried out at the behest of the Iranian regime, have provided the Islamic State with the perfect environment to settle down and establish its stronghold.
Iran is at the root of the chaos
Unless they wish to see failure at the end of the road, the U.S. and its allies must at all costs avoid including Iran in the current campaign against the Islamic State. History has proven that any involvement of the Iranian regime in the fight against terrorism will only yield irreparable, strategic disasters and will only contribute to the further propagation of Islamic fundamentalism and sectarian violence in the region.
The threat of Islamic fundamentalism and emergence of groups like the Islamic State will only be stifled at its root when the regime in Tehran—the source of the problem—is replaced with a secular and democratic government.
Fortunately, such an alternative already exists in the PMOI, the democratic and organized opposition of the Iranian regime, the true bane of Islamic fundamentalism and the key to durable peace and stability in the region. That is a good place to start looking to find a solution to put together the pieces of the mess caused by the Iranian regime.
Amir Basiri is an Iranian human rights activist and supporter of democratic regime change in Iran.