MOSCOW, September 15 (RIA Novosti) – Iran’s involvement is “critical in the fight against the Islamic State,” (IS) especially considering that Tehran was the first to assist Baghdad when the radical Sunni group seized Mosul in early June, Alex Vatanka, Adjunct Scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC, told Radio VR.
However, last week, US State Secretary John Kerry said that it would be inappropriate for the Tehran to join the US-led coalition to counter the jihadist group due to Tehran’s “engagement in Syria and elsewhere”. As a result, Iran was not invited to take part in an international conference on Iraqi security taking place in Paris on Monday. Some experts say that this is a mistake, pointing to the fruitless talks on Syria in Geneva.
Considering that Iran is majorly involved in fighting IS militants in Iraq, keeping it out of the discussion is “almost unrealistic”, Vatanka believes. “Sure, on paper we can say that Iran is not involved but in reality it is the Iranians who are helping above anyone else in Iraq,” explained the expert on Middle East adding that Tehran has been helping the government forces and Shia militias, as well as Peshmerga in Kurdistan.
“Having said that, politically it is very difficult to give Iran … a big, public, open role,” Vatanka stressed. The US is trying to build a large coalition from allied countries in the region, particularly the Gulf states, Egypt, Jordan, etc. It must weigh the pros and cons of bringing a very influential player like Iran into it. Other countries may well be unsure of Tehran’s goals and ambitions and have second thoughts and stay out of the coalition. “Costs are greater by having Iran in openly than having them do what they are doing on the sidelines quietly,” the expert said.
To an extent, the Islamic State has been successful in taking large parts of Iraq and Syria under control due to support, albeit lukewarm, from local Sunnis. That issue can only be tackled by creating an inclusive government and allowing disgruntled Sunnis to play a part in running the country. Vatanka is convinced that the Gulf states, such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, are instrumental in that respect. Each of those states “has groups within Iraq that they have over last 10-12 years worked with” meaning they have leverage over the Sunni political community in the war-torn nation.
So far, 10 Arab nations have agreed to take part in the US-led coalition, set to, as US President Barack Obama put it, “degrade and destroy the Islamic State”. These nations are Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. In total, nearly 40 countries are expected to contribute to fighting IS, according to John Kerry.