FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Iran, Like the Rest, Is Not Blameless

When the United States government declared its war on Afghanistan in October 2001, thus taking the first step in its so-called ‘war on terror’, following the devastating attacks of September 11 earlier that year, Iran jumped on board.

Then Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, dubbed a reformist, provided substantial assistance in the US effort aimed at defeating the Taliban, an ardent enemy of Iran and Afghan Shia. Indeed, the Taliban’s aggressive policies included an anti-Shia drive, which resulted in a massive refugee problem. Tens of thousands of Afghan Shia sought refuge in Iran.

Khatami’s ‘friendly’ gesture towards the anti-terror crusade lead by George W. Bush was not by any means an Iranian departure from a supposed policy of non-intervention in the region. Iran is a country with porous borders, political and strategic interests, serious and legitimate fears, but also unquestionable ambitions.

Iran’s intervention in Afghanistan never ceased since then, and is likely to continue, especially following the US withdrawal, whenever it takes place. Iran’s earlier role in Afghanistan ranged from the arrest of al-Qaeda suspects, sought by Washington, to training Afghan soldiers, to direct intervention in the country’s politics so as to ensure that the country’s politics are aligned to meet Iranian expectations.

None of this should come as a surprise. Iran has been under massive scrutiny since the Iranian revolution in 1979. It has been threatened, sanctioned, punished, and for nearly a decade fought a massive war with Iraq. Nearly half a million soldiers, and an estimated equal number of civilians perished in the ‘long war’ when Iraq and Iran, using World War II tactics, sparred over territories, waterways access, resources, regional dominance and more. Both parties used conventional and non-conventional weapons to win the ugly conflict. Neither did.

But regardless of the thinking behind Iran’s current regional ambitions, one cannot pretend that Iran is an innocent force in the Middle East, solely aimed at self-preservation. This reading is as incorrect as that, championed by Israel and its remaining neoconservative friends in Washington, which see Iran as a threat that must be eradicated for the Middle East to achieve peace and stability.

When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, Iran immediately moved to rearrange the country’s politics to suit its interests. It poured massive funds and a limitless arsenal to aid its allies, Shia political parties and notorious militias. Expectedly, Iran wanted to ensure that the American debacle in Iraq deepens, so Tehran doesn’t become the next US war destination. To do so, however, Iran, jointly, although indirectly with the Americans, savaged the once strongest Arab country.

The Shia government and its numerous militias killed, butchered, abused and humiliated Sunnis, especially tribes, which were seen as particularity influential following the destruction of the Baath regime and other centers of supposed Sunni seats of power.

That reductionist understanding of Iraqi society was both championed by Washington and Tehran. The horrible consequences of that understanding raised an unprecedented animosity towards Iran, and, expectedly towards Shia in general throughout much of the region.

However, the key role played by Hezbollah, a mainly Shia party and fighting force, in ending the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in 2000, and driving the Israelis out once more in 2006, balanced out the damage inflicted by Iran’s destructive role in Iraq. Hezbollah’s ability to keep Israel at bay was more than enough to challenge the sectarian argument.

Things changed however with the arrival of the so-called Arab Spring. Iran and its regional enemies, in the Gulf, and later Turkey, perceived the upheaval in the Arab world as a serious threat, but also an opportunity.

It was a great game par excellence, which is now on full display in Yemen, and of course, Syria and elsewhere.

While one may argue that ultimately the ongoing wars in the Middle East are not rooted in any sectarian tendencies, but the outcome of a political power play that span decades, there is no denial that the sectarian component of the war is now a defining one, and that Iran, like the Gulf, Turkey, Israel, the US and their Western allies, are all implicated.

They may all claim some rational dialectic through which to justify or explain their involvement, but few can claim innocence in the suffering of millions of people.

During the Iraq-Iran war (1980-88), the US stood on the side of Iraq, providing logistical and military support. Iran has no trust of the US or respect for its foreign policy. But Tehran also understands that the US, despite its waning influence, will remain an important party in the Middle East, and therefore has tailored its policies with that understanding in mind. Iran cooperates with the US when its suits both parties interests, as they did in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS).

From Tehran’s viewpoint, its regional expansion can be partly seen as a defense mechanism: a powerful and influential Iran would decrease the chances of a US-Israeli aggression. Just recently, the European Union top diplomat called on Iran to “play a major, major but positive, role on Syria in particular, to encourage the regime to … (support) a Syrian-led transition.”

For Iran, such statements are political leverage which, to a degree, indicate the success of its strategy in Syria, one that involved major military support of the Assad government, and direct military intervention. It’s irrefutable that Iran’s role in Syria has been following the same sectarian lines that it followed, and continues to adhere to in Iraq. While Iran’s fight against the brutes of IS is undeniable, Iran’s responsibility in the rise of Sunni militarism in the first place must also not be denied.

While Iran is sustaining several fronts in its current role in the Middle East great game, it hopes to translate its palpable regional ascendency into political capital, one that the Iranian government wants to translate to a final nuclear deal before June 30. That deal could spare Iran further conflict with the West, or at least lessen the fervor of war championed by rightwing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies.

Current media and political discourses attempting to rationalize the multiple conflicts in the Middle East region tend to invest in one singular reading, which tends to demonize one party and completely spare others. While the role of regional actors in supporting extremists in Syria and Iraq, which lead to the formation of IS is known and openly discussed, Iran cannot be spared the blame.

Iran is part and parcel of ongoing conflicts, has contributed to some, reacted to others; it labored to defeat US ambitions, but also cooperated with Washington when their interests intersected. It is as sectarian as the rest, and abashedly so.

This is not an attempt at implicating Iran, but an attempt at an honest reading into a war involving many parties, whose hands are equally bloody.

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net

More articles by:

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB.

January 21, 2019
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail