Friday, March 6, 2015

US-Iran: The Odd Couple on the Iraqi Battlefield

Much of the uneasy awkward US-Iranian military alliance of convenience to push out ISIS has been low-key however its relationship has been significant on several levels. Iran’s substantial presence and influence with Iraq’s Shiite militias effectively makes it an occupying army as well as American military forces including air power. The training and leading of Shiites soldiers against Sunni strongholds is preparation for a civil war that no one wants to call a civil war.

This unofficial and awkward collaboration between the US and Iran against ISIS has an eerie historical parallel deja vu. Iran, a totalitarian state, is on the same side as the US, a democracy, to battle a common enemy in ISIS, a newly formed totalitarian regime.  WW II featured a totalitarian Soviet Union and democratic US batting a newly formed totalitarian regime in Nazi Germany. The Mideast turmoil is based on deep religious rifts while the WW II confrontation was based on perceived ethnic & racial superiority. ISIS has effectively used social media, a new propaganda communication tool, to spread their vile hatred-filled messages in a corporate, professional manner. Nazi Germany practically invented the public relations campaign by utilizing radio, a new communication tool at the time, in such a way that it had never been used before.

Certainly the US military is closely observing Iran’s military operations, strategy and performance of its ground troops and its Shiite militias allies consisting of an estimated total ground force 30,000 in its assault to take Tikrit – the critical crossroad city for future assaults on ISIS. And quietly looking over America’s shoulder are the anxious Israelis who are taking copious notes on Iran’s military capability in major ground battles.

In another historical ironic, as proof that former enemies can be convenient allies and vice-versa within a generation, the fathers of the Iranian ground forces and Iraqi Shiite militias probably fought face-to-face as enemies in the Iraq-Iran war during the early 1980s and whose sons are now fighting shoulder-to-shoulder as brothers in arms against a common enemy.

In case these military operations fail, it would be a tremendous political and military coup for ISIS. Militarily its prestige would soar with their defense against both high-tech western and Persian-trained invaders. Politically, the U.S. and Iran fissure would grow as each would use the other and./or their respective allies – the Shiite militates, Iraqi Army, the Kurds - as scapegoats in their failure to capture major ISIS occupied cities.

Back in their respect capitals of Washington DC and Tehran, these ever shifting political sands affect the on-going and seemingly never ending negotiations on a nuclear deal between the US and Iran. These agreements, formal or otherwise, are unlikely to be concluded until ISIS is either defeated or neutralized. Of course all bets are off should ISIS hold Tikrit and/or Mosul which would create an even more difficult scenario.

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