The United States and Iran should cooperate on tackling Islamic State

The United States should take this opportunity to reset relations with the Middle East’s main political player.

Politics is a fickle game, especially when the United States is involved. Twelve years on from President Bush’s famous Axis of Evil speech, which condemned Iran as a supporter of terrorism, and the chief architect of their crippling United Nation’s sanctions, America now sees Iran as a key player to play its part in halting the ever expanding momentum of the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria.

But why would the United States reach out to Iran now?

Currently, the United States is leading a 60 country ‘coalition’ involving a number of Arab League states with air strikes aimed to disrupt and stall IS momentum and to ensure the safety of civilians who they say are at risk from IS. The humiliation the Iraqi army suffered when the Islamic State captured the Iraqi town of Mosul back in June, showed Obama and the regional players in the Middle East that Iraq is in need of immediate assistance – financial backing, weapons, training, intelligence sharing and airstrikes to slow down IS meteoric expansion throughout the country.

Since its inception, IS is said to have killed and injured around 20,000 civilians in Iraq and Syria and responsible for the mass killings of the Yazidi people on Mount Sinjar, and that number will only sadly, increase. With kidnappings, hostage taking and the selling of crude oil on the black market, the Islamic State are an extremely well funded organisation and have a solid infrastructure in place to continue fighting. The CIA’s recent admission that they do not know the true numbers of fighters that make up IS – current estimates top 30,000 – will only toughen Obama’s resolve to find allies in the region willing to work with him to combat the increasing threat from IS.

The Obama administration knows that air strikes alone won’t hold back IS from absorbing large areas of territory in both Iraq and Syria. What Obama needs is boots on the ground. Both the United States and the United Kingdom’s respective governments are uneasy about putting boots on the ground for yet another war in the Middle East so soon after the previous war in Iraq and the current, albeit winding down of operations, in Afghanistan.

Obamas most trusted partners have faced intense criticism domestically. British Prime Minister David Cameron failed to get ministerial approval to bomb Syria during the Syria Civil War last year, to target Bashar Al-Assad and his supporters and, with public opinion weighing heavily on his mind with an election in Britain only seven months away, he cannot be seen to put troops in Iraq just to appease the Obama Administration.

Obama needs an ally that he can work with and he may have that in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Iran wields controlling influence in Iraq, due to Iraq’s Shia majority and they have both religious and nationalistic reasons for fighting extremism in the country. The recent agreement on Tehran’s nuclear programme and easing of economic and trade sanctions was seen as a momentous step in the thaw of US-Iran relations. Whether Obama can facilitate common interests between Washington and Tehran remains to be seen, but relations have improved to such an extent that the United States is seriously considering working with Iran on certain foreign policy issues. Secretary John Kerry went further with public remarks, stating that ‘there is a role for nearly every country in the world to play, including Iran’. This will encourage Tehran to the extent that the United States is publically calling for Iran to play a role in finding the solution to the ongoing conflict.

Iran’s decision to help facilitate the exit of former Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki has illustrated to the United States and the West its willingness to co-operate with regional neighbours. Iran has military advisors in Iraq and can be seen as looking at the larger picture and vision for the future of Iraq. Publically or privately, the Iranians will be keeping a keen eye on the developments in Iraq and Syria. If cooperation with the United States and the West will preserve its role as a regional policeman, it will cooperate. If Tehran is seen to be actively involved in the fight against IS, its reputation on the international stage will improve dramatically. Additionally, with its nuclear agreement that was signed with the US and other western countries nearing its expiration date, Iran may end up in a much better situation than it could have ever expected six months ago.

By David Willsher  

David Willsher attended the University of Hull and obtained his BA (Hons) in History in July 2011 before completing his postgraduate MA in January 2013. He spent time working in finance and is now teaching in Surrey.

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Categories: Middle East, North America

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One Comment on “The United States and Iran should cooperate on tackling Islamic State”

  1. October 13, 2014 at 6:04 am #

    The suggestion that US and Iran cooperate can become amplified by calling for all nations on Earth to cooperate and take down the ISIS. When every nation on Earth agrees to send up to 1,000 police/soldiers to Iraq and Syria, ISIS will end very quickly.

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