As the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS/DAASH) continues its operations, the Iraqi parliament has, according to the BBC, reportedly pushed back a vote “on a request to grant the prime minister emergency powers.”
Nuri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, has long looked past concepts such as “power sharing” as a solution to a volatile Iraq. But as was recently revealed by The New York Times, attacks during the month of May prompted him to request backup — from the United States.
There is, however, another country, one with a roughly 1,400 kilometer-long border with Iraq, that may be tempted to step in: Iran.
Should the US continue to turn a blind eye toward Iraq’s chaos, Iran may very well feel it can further tie Iraq and Maliki’s political future to the Islamic Republic. That would put the US on diminished footing vis-à-vis bargaining with Maliki to accept military assistance in favor of necessary political preconditions, such as those floated in The Wall Street Journal by the scholar Kenneth M. Pollack. Already, in Iran’s political parlance, Iraq has purportedly been referred to as “the Islamic government of Iraq” by former Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi.
In fact, Iran would most likely be happy to see America leave Iraq flailing in the wind. This neatly conforms to the Islamic Republic’s pre-existing narratives of American reliability. Moreover, it gives the likes of Major General Qassem Suleimani, the Commander of the IRGC Quds-Force (IRGC-QF), the chance to strut his stuff. Depending on prospective levels of Iranian support to Iraq in this crisis, the maxim of Suleimani’s that was popularized in The New Yorker— “‘We’re not like the Americans. We don’t abandon our friends'” — may once again be proven correct. After all, a photo recently emerged on Farhang News showing him holding hands with Iraqi Parliamentarian Qassem al-Araji in Iraq.
The events in Iraq have further forced Iran’s political and military class out of the woodwork, commenting on the situation to their East. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif noted that “Iran … is ready to help the government and people of Iraq to combat terrorism,” according to Radio Farda. President Rouhani also touched on the developments in Iraq, but did so by advertising a “session of the Supreme National Security Council” dedicated to the “region,” as was reported by Mehr News Agency.
On the IRGC front, Ayatollah Khamenei’s representative to the Guards, Hojjat-ol-Eslam Ali Saeedi, started pointing fingers for the violence. The countries that Saeedi held chiefly responsible, as reported by Tasnim News Agency were: America, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. He further stated that “[t]oday they feel that all their conspiracies in Syria have been defeated, [and] they have opened up another front by the name of Iraq ….” Picking up a similar theme, the Deputy Commander of the IRGC, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, was quoted by Mehr News Agency as saying, “Events that have taken place in various countries today, and as such in Iraq, are the results of military interventions by America and Western governments.”
But there may be another culprit, one that rings a historical bell for Iran. According to a recent report in The New York Times, “Baathist military commanders from the Hussein era” have linked up with the armed militias currently conquering Iraqi territory. Should this be true, Iran’s revolutionary leaders may feel their memory jogged by propaganda tactics used by the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, at the beginning of the bloody eight-year war between Iraq and Iran (1980-1988). Back then, Khomeini instructed the army and people of the “noble nation” of Iraq to rebel against Saddam, and reminded the populace in loaded religious language that “you know this war is between Islam and disbelief, the glorious Quran and atheism ….”
Following Khomeini’s example, Iran’s religious leaders have joined the fray, adding fuel to the sectarian fire. Some clerics took the stance of Grand Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani, who offered his best wishes but cautioned that “forces of resistance will extinguish this sedition with prudence and unity,” as reported by The Islamic Revolution Documentation Center. Furthermore, the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) ran a story reporting Prime Minister Maliki’s praise of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric (who, incidentally, is of Iranian origin, as his surname attests).
The strongest message came, however, from Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nuri Hamadani. In language that went beyond basic lexical devices, Hamadani portrayed the events taking place in Iraq as a celestial struggle between good and evil. He told the Iraqis that “it is incumbent upon Muslims to defend Islam with all [their] strength and capabilities, and be sure that the victory of Muslims is final in every stage, and the defeat of the opponents of Islam is certain,” Mehr News Agency reported. Hamadani concluded his message with an excerpt of Chapter 61, Verse 13 of the Holy Quran, which assures “victory from God and a near triumph …” [نصر من الله و فتح قریب].
That may well hold true, but whose side God is on in this battle shall continue to remain to be seen.