The United States may not have made a complete decision on its role in the growing Iraqi civil war yet, but neighboring countries have already enlisted their militaries. Iran is offering “everything we need,” according to one Iraqi official, while reports surface that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sent war planes into Iraq to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
Iran’s commitment to fighting the Sunni jihadist uprising in Iraq is not news; The Guardian reported this weekend that the nation had preliminarily sent 2,000 troops to protect Iranian interests in the country. But the extent to which Iran has offered to help the Iraqi government prevent a takeover of Baghdad by ISIS appears increasingly larger as ISIS gains ground.
Iran is not just offering to send troops, however. A Daily Beast report claims the Iranian government has offered Iraq “everything we need,” from infantry troops to spies to what author Eli Lake calls “highly trained irregular units” to help fight ISIS. The help is not unexpected; as Lake notes, the Iranian government has much influence within Shi’ite parties in Iraq, and it often supports–and even helps finance–parties and candidates that best suit its interests.
While Iran has sent 2,000 troops into Iraq and offered unconditional support to the government against ISIS, the Obama administration has lagged behind in fully committing to the fight. Monday night, the President announced the introduction of 275 military personnel in Iraq to help protect American interests there. It is believed they will guard those interests, including the American embassy, and not otherwise fight ISIS.
The Obama administration also announced that it would consider the possibility of working with Iran to help stabilize the country. As Breitbart News’ Jordan Schachtel explains, Iran is a state sponsor of terror and often possesses interests at odds with what is best for the United States. Such an alliance would be risky at best and has the potential to greatly increase the influence of Iran in the region, which could also lead to further regional destabilization.
Iran is not the only questionable ally at play in Iraq, however. According to a Fox News report, Syria’s Assad has joined the fray despite having major instability issues at home, where the country continues to suffer through a civil war. Sources claim that Syrian war planes entered Iraqi territory and struck two ISIS convoys over the border. Such an attack would be the first of its kind involving Syria in Iraq during this latest Sunni Islamist uprising. The report notes that Syria attacked using intelligence provided by Iran, which would indicate cooperation between the two countries at the exclusion of the United States.
While being a quiet player in the evolving Iraq crisis, Syria may be the most pivotal to ISIS’s ability to continue taking control of cities and inching ever closer to Baghdad. While Iraqi soldiers outnumber ISIS 15 to 1, they have been able to use momentum gained in the Syrian civil war to bring jihadists into Iraq. Many of these fighting within Syria, relevant governments have noted, are Europeans who have left their home countries to fight Assad and may be engaged in fighting the Iraqi government, as well. ISIS is among the more active groups fighting against Assad in Syria, causing significant problems for groups like the Syrian National Coalition, which is recognized by the United States.
In addition to Iran and Syria independently, the Arab League as a coalition denounced ISIS attacks, calling for “a comprehensive and earnest dialogue to confront the threats that endanger the security, stability and unity of Iraq.” The group, composed of countries in north Africa and Western Asia, openly condemned ISIS’ attacks.
While the United States’ role in the ongoing war remains undefined, the ISIS takeover of Iraq threatens to engulf the entire region in religious sectarian violence–a region already tormented by the wages of terrorism and civil war. Syria and Iran may be just the first two states to join the fray, while their neighbors continue to eye the situation.