06/15/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Debris of Dual Containment

Most Americans know little, if anything, about the Iran-Iraq War, which is troubling given how deeply involved we were in it. Well over a million Iraqi and Iranian soldiers, as well as civilians, perished during the war, with many more injured and wounded.

Iranian public animosity toward the US in the 1980s had as much to do with American support for Iraq during the war as it did with American support for the Shah prior to Iran's revolution.

During the course of this eight-year-long war, Iraq used chemical weapons, including mustard gas, against Iranians as well as Kurds and other Iraqis. In doing so, it violated the 1925 Geneva Protocol on chemical weapons, although Iraq's gassing of its Kurds and its own people was not technically in violation of the Protocol, as there was no expectation that a signatory country would ever gas its own citizens.

Many of these weapons of mass destruction were provided to Saddam Hussein by France. In fact, the US actually approved French shipments of weapons to Iraq and openly supported Iraq during the war.

To the great shame of the US government, the Iran-Contra hearings revealed that America was playing both sides of this duplicitous game.

Congressional hearings held in 1987 uncovered the Reagan administration's secret and unlawful policies whereby Israelis brokered US missiles to Iran. Several thousand anti-tank (TOW) and anti-aircraft (HAWK) missiles were sold to Iran with the proceeds put into a slush fund to help arm the Nicaraguan Contras.

This elaborate web of contradictory policy spun by the American government would later come back to haunt it. Seemingly, the US had a very consistent policy: keep both Iran and Iraq busy fighting each other, while we pull the oil out from under them.

This dual-containment policy had risks, as it might have easily turned both Iran and Iraq against the US. But when the war ended, Iraq maintained diplomatic relations with the United States while Iran maintained its enemy status.

Ultimately, after the war and the so-called Islamic Revolution, Iranians understandably grew to associate both Iraq and America as enemies. Equally understandably, after the war, Iraq continued its animosity toward Iran. It wasn't until the first Iraq war, however, that America suddenly became a common enemy of both Iran and Iraq.

Still, neither Iranians nor Iraqis had any geographic proximity to the US, so they focused their hatred on each other.

Hence, the fierce hostility that has existed between Iran and Iraq since the start of the war in 1980.

That is, until now.

Most Iranians never envisioned a day when they would be helping Iraq in any way. With over a half-million dead countrymen, it's not hard to see why.

But the past six years of war in Iraq have changed the sociopolitical dynamics.

Iraqis and Iranians finally realize that they have something in common -- an American empire that just can't seem to keep its hands out of their business and oil.

While the US overthrew a dictator in Iraq and a democratically elected prime minister in Iran, and while Iranians are neither Arab nor Arabic-speakers and Iraqis are both, there was something familiar to the Iranians about the US invasion of Iraq.

It represented a common enemy overstepping its bounds, and this was the beginning of the end of "dual containment."

Today, the US has achieved exactly the opposite of the policy aim it has touted for nearly 30 years: Instead of dual containment, it has single-handedly forged a military and spiritual alliance between the parties it had hoped to contain.

As an Iraq War veteran and an Iranian citizen, we can tell you what this looks like from the inside: increasingly, the previous caution and hatred between nations has transformed into the most dangerous of sentiments in the middle of a war: compassion.

From today's Iranian perspective, Iraqis are the victims of an American greed and imperialism with which Iranians are all too familiar.

Last month, former Iranian president and political powerhouse Hashemi Rafsanjani received a red-carpet welcome from Iraqi president Jalal Talabani in Baghdad. While there, Rafsanjani promised to assist in Iraqi reconstruction. In response, Talabani praised Rafsanjani's guidance, as he led the effort to rebuild Iran after the Iran-Iraq War.

If you told Iranians and Iraqis eight years ago that Iran would happily and willingly want to assist Iraq in anything one day, both would likely have laughed in your face. But the landscape has changed considerably, thanks to the American military presence and destruction in the region.

It's hard for Iraqis and Iranians to forget over a million dead and wounded citizens courtesy of their eight-year-long conflict. Still, it's equally hard to forget an imperialist power that has encouraged an unnecessary hostility between two proud and revered civilizations.

Today, there is a growingly entrenched cultural resentment against the US by both Iran and Iraq.

This is not to say that the shared enemy in America has wiped the slate clean. A certain amount of animosity still exists between Iran and Iraq thanks to strained history.

Nevertheless, the specters of disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan remain in everyone's backyards and minds.

Iran and Iraq have finally recognized just how seriously they were both duped by America's dual-containment policy.

As it stands, Iraq is not winning over the hearts and minds of Iranians any more than Iran is winning over the hearts and minds of Iraqis or Americans.

However, the US is perceived to have insulted both nations far too many times with its myopic, self-interested and devastating policies.

President Obama's recent good-will gesture to Iran praising its history and civilization on the Persian New Year, marked by the first day of spring, was received warmly by much of Iran's political elite, not to mention its general public.

But, Ayatullah Khameini, the supreme leader of Iran, who generally steers clear of the media, made it a point to respond publicly to President Obama's statements.

"To prove its credibility," Khameini said, "the new US administration must change its policies toward Iran and the region, and end its arrogant approach toward other nations."

Conceding that Iran had no experience with the new administration yet, Khameini continued, "We will wait and see. If you change your attitude, we will change too. If you do not change, then our nation will build on its experience over the past 30 years."

Neither Iran nor Iraq can afford to continue with a repeat of the last 30 years. And if America should choose to continue pursuing its old tactics and policies of sanctions and war, then it can expect that both Iran and Iraq will continue to pursue their growing friendship.

Such a friendship, moreover, would not grow out of some newfound mutual adoration. Rather, it would be a friendship based on a long-lived mutual disdain for the US government. Whatever the end result, it is clear that dual containment has finally exploded in America's face.

What the US does with the debris from this explosion has yet to be seen. But the clean-up effort will assuredly determine the course of history.

Melody Moezzi is an attorney and the author of "War on Error: Real Stories of American Muslims," which earned her a Georgia Author of the Year award. Former Army Capt. Luis Carlos Montalván served two tours in Iraq and is a member of the Council for Emerging National Security Affairs (CENSA).