Deutsche Welle: It’s certainly one of recent history’s biggest ironies – only a few years ago, Iran was part of the “axis of evil.” Now it has suddenly become an anchor of stability in a region riddled with existential crises. The real reasons for this unbelievable transformation is the United States’ catastrophic Middle East policy and the utterly unnecessary war in Iraq.
US-Iranian cooperation against ISIS in Iraq would represent a historic intervention. And it would be a positive sign – if Tehran weren’t mainly interested in expanding its power, says DW’s Jamsheed Faroughi.
By Jamsheed Faroughi
It’s certainly one of recent history’s biggest ironies – only a few years ago, Iran was part of the “axis of evil.” Now it has suddenly become an anchor of stability in a region riddled with existential crises. If you’re looking for the real reasons for this unbelievable transformation in Iran’s role in the region, it would be wise not to forget: all this is not the consequence of Iran’s clever foreign policy, but the result of the United States’ catastrophic Middle East policy and the utterly unnecessary war in Iraq.
It’s pretty obvious that the US-led invasion of Iraq hasn’t made the region any safer. But no one in Washington foresaw that, ten years on, Iraq would be on the brink of destruction. To avert this tragic fate, it has even become necessary for the former “Great Satan” and the former “rogue state” to form an uneasy alliance.
Should this cooperation indeed come to pass, it wouldn’t mark the beginning of an intimate friendship – more a pragmatic agreement. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” they say. But things are never that easy in the Middle East.
Iran was never a “silent observer” of Iraq’s destabilization, but an important protagonist – and so partially responsible. Historically and ethnically, Iran and Iraq have a lot in common. Both countries are multi-ethnic states with a Shiite majority; both deny their religious minorities participation in their political processes. In both countries, the Kurds and Sunnis are marginalized, and both countries control large oil reserves, which makes them so geopolitically important.
The relationship between the two countries has been a love-hate one for a long time. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was a regional power. Armed by the US, Baghdad began an eight-year war against Iran in 1980 that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and laid waste to vast swathes of land. The wounds inflicted by that war are still far from healed, particularly in the border regions.
So there we have it again, the irony of history: the old foe is now supposed to rescue Iraq from destruction. But the belief that some kind of cooperation between Washington and Tehran will pacify and stabilize Iraq is naïve – and hasn’t been thought through. The situation is a lot more complex than it looks.
What is currently happening in Iraq is not just a sectarian conflict – it is a proxy war that reveals the deep divide in the Islamic world, namely that between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Iraq is another battlefield – just the most important and deadly one in this proxy war, because there is a real danger that this conflict could spread and destabilize the entire region.
Against this backdrop, it is politically stupid and shortsighted of the Iranian regime to prioritize the expansion of its power in southern Iraq. The main aim must be to stabilize the neighboring country. Any direct intervention in this so-called sectarian conflict, and any blind and unrestricted support of the Shiites in Iraq could spark the conflict in Iran itself – where millions of Kurds, Arabs, Baloch people, and not least Sunnis live.
Jamsheed Faroughi is head of DW’s Persian department