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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Just what is Iran's strategy in Syria and Iraq?

Link: What is the Iranian Strategy?

The article which I have linked is so concise, well-written and full of relevant details, that I had no need to added a second link.  You might be assuming that it was written by me, but in this instance, I can't take the credit.  With regard to the ISIS/ISIL conflict playing out in Syria and Iraq, Iran is a major player.  The Iranians support Bashir al-Assad in Damascus, and currently appear to be calling the shots in Baghdad, Yemen, and Lebanon (Iran is also close with Oman's Sultan Qaboos).  The recent military gains near the oil refinery in Baiji have been attributed to support provided to the Iraqi Army by Shia militias directed by Teheran.  While Turkey purposely steps on everyone's toes, the United States fumbles around, searching for a coherent strategy, and ISIL spends every waking moment looking for a woman to rape or a head to chop off, the Iranians have stealthily strengthened their position in every theater.  Don't get me wrong, I'm still very pessimistic regarding the future of Baghdad, but the Iranians are beginning to apply a few more resources to the struggle, which traditionally signals a new, more aggressive policy on the part of Teheran.  Actually, the Iranians almost seem to be in the catbird seat.  ISIL has been stopped, temporarily, from its efforts to control the northern Iraqi oil fields, and the Iranians have yet to deploy one regular army brigade (although the Badr Corps and Kataib Hezbollah are bound to have Iranian military advisors on hand).  Assad, Teheran's man in Syria, has been given a new lease on life due to the allied air campaign against ISIL, al-Nusra Front, Khorasan and the Partridge Family (excuse the sarcasm, I'm still full of myself after the geniuses in the Pentagon discovered that the groups were part of the same network, which I've been declaring for two months).  In fact, by the time the Free Syrian Army has been trained to adequately fight defensively, the regular Syrian Army will be reconstituted to the point of being the strongest military element in Syria.  And once Assad is back on top, I doubt seriously that Putin and Teheran will allow his removal without a legitimate fight.

Where do the Kurds fit into all this?

I worry about the Kurds.  The fortunes of the Kurdish people can change in the blink of an eye.  They fight like madmen, are courageous to a fault, have never really betrayed anyone, and only want to be left alone in their own little piece of nationhood.  However, since that nationhood dream includes access to oil, it is unlikely to become a reality.  This conflict has Syrian Kurds fighting in Kobani, Iraqi Kurds fighting around Mosul and Erbil, and the never-ending shooting contest with the Turkish Army.  I see an opportunity for the Iranians to add Suleymaniyah, Kurdistan to their list of friends:  If the Iranians were to intervene militarily against ISIL in defense of the Kurds and the Yazidi, can you imagine the public relations jackpot Iran will enjoy?  What a development: Iranian ground forces move in to mop up ISIL, when the Americans couldn't be bothered (and we all know that this is the American's mess to begin with).  The Iranian Army fighting alongside the Iraqi Army, removing the ISIL butchers, should push aside any distaste from the influential Sunni Shaykhs and politicians.  It would solidify the pro-Iranian political forces in Baghdad, and stabilize its own northeastern border with Kurdistan.  Assad finishes off ISIL in Syria, and the Iranians become the power broker in the region.  True, a lot would have to fall into place for this scenario to come to pass.  The Kurds and Iranians would have to get past years of distrust to work that closely together.  And the Sunni community in central Iraq would be the most difficult audience of all.  But when I examine the current situation, I can see no one as well-placed as the Iranians.  The Turks had an opportunity to become that same power broker, but Erdogan can't keep his personal prejudices from impacting his decisions.  The Turks should have co-opted the Kurds, gained access to the Kurdish oil fields, and ended centuries of conflict.  Turkey should have done the United States one better and rolled its tanks and F-16s into Syria, blasting both ISIL and Syrian regular forces into smithereens.  Erdogan could have appealed to the sense of destiny that sits in the heart of every Turk.  At the beginning of this conflict was the time for Turkey to reclaim its natural position as savior and leader of the region, and the first step would have been to crush the band of butchers who call themselves ISIL, and then remove the band of butchers that call themselves the Ba'ath Party in Damascus.  And what would have been the worst-case reaction from the United States and Europe?  That they might have gotten so angry that they enacted a sanctions regime to prohibit Turkish leaders from traveling to Miami Beach in the winter?  At the same time, the Iranians would have been too focused on their all-consuming obsession to build nuclear weapons, and Putin was otherwise too engaged in Ukraine to have made a big stink.  Ok, that last point is probably not true: Putin will not let Assad go without a serious fight, because of Putin's desire for a Mediterranean Port for his navy.

So today's post began as an examination of Iran's options in Syria and Iraq, and ended with a review of what Turkey had to gain by being more aggressive and less-impulsive.  But Turkey's opportunity has now passed, especially in light of recent anti-American, anti-European, events in Turkey.  Erdogan is probably happy right now just to sit back and regroup.  This is of course after he has the pleasure of visiting for a few days with Egg-Head of the millennium, Joe Biden.  But Iran is still in the moment, and if the leaders in Teheran showed a bit of innovation and strategic urgency, they could turn this conflict into an Iranian diplomatic coming-out party.

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