A viable policy in Iraq must achieve clear and achievable goals and allow America to stand down as the Iraqi people stand up. Because of the lack of a Status of Forces Agreement between Iraq and the United States, the U.S. Armed Forces have been treading a legal tightrope as they balance what's needed to bomb ISIL, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant with the political situation. All of this is being done in line with international law. So why is the US working with Iran's Qods Force, a designated terrorist organization?
Besides being completely illegal, working with Iran's paramilitary arm is not strategically sound. Qods commits unspeakable atrocities, kills women and children, and has been implicated in backing sectarian death squads in Syria, Lebanon, and even Afghanistan. IRGC-QF, as it's known in military and intelligence circles, is also singularly responsible for using the deadliest explosives and even assassinations against the U.S. military and American diplomats.
The military gains of both Iran's proxies and ISIL should be blunted to curb the sectarian bloodshed outside Irbil sure to follow. The international coalition Secretary Kerry and President Obama cobbled together, acting in concert with the United States, should take more aggressive actions to prevent advances by Shi'a militia.
The primary objective in Iraq should be to secure Irbil, pull back all American diplomatic and military presence to behind Iraqi Kurdistan's borders, and pit ISIL and Iran against each other. Iran's Shi'a militia proxies effectively control Baghdad and exercise significant control on Iraqi military operations. They should be allowed to fight ISIL to the last man.
Some proponents of working with Iran invoke the plight of the Kurdish and Yazidi people in Northern Iraq. Ironically enough, Iran has also already begun subversive efforts to destabilize Kurdistan. University of Maryland researcher Phillip Smyth, who follows Shi'a Islamist movements, has tracked Iranian activities in Iraq for years and recently stated Iran views the current crisis as "their moment" in Iraq.
It was curious, then, when commentators floated the idea the US had "only one potential strategic partner left: Iran." Iran is not a viable partner, and has repeatedly expressed its desire to carve a so-called 'Shia crescent' out of the existing Middle East. The world can no longer allow the Iraqi military and police to function as an extension of Iran's military, especially while the outcome of nuclear negotiations with Tehran remain tenuous. Failure to arrest Iran's momentum in Iraq could lead to Iran having not one but three large standing armies and nuclear weapons.
To counter the tactical advantage held by ISIL and the Shi'a militias, the Kurdish peshmerga, already an effective fighting force, should be armed and trained by the Joint Special Operations Command. The enemy's usage of urban fortification and human shields ensures airstrikes will result in civilian casualties and efforts to locate ISIL fighters requires human sources as well as aircraft provided to Sunni and Kurdish groups by NATO.
Adversarial networks are slippery by nature, but Iran's global network of proxies are especially adept at strategic deception and regularly outfox our Central Intelligence Agency. Iran's intelligence services famously lured the CIAs entire network of informants to a Pizza Hut in Lebanon, where they were promptly shipped off for a talk over chai. Their fate is, well, still unknown.
Syrian, Iranian, and Iraqi Kurds are needed to collect vital intelligence against Iranian special groups in Iraq and Syria and combat Iranian influence. Prominent Kurdish citizens have already begun to publicly rebuff Iran's advances. Additionally, the coalition should commit to maintaining a presence in Iraq through the provincial elections in 2017.
The United States should abandon efforts to unify a national government. Iran cannot be considered a credible--or desirable--partner in Iraq, and they control Baghdad. That makes Baghdad, strategically, an adversary.
Iraq is plagued by long-term problems, and the military action taken recently is just the first step in a long slog that will last years, if not decades. Failure by NATO and the United States to support sensible policies will ensure the dissipation of influence in the region.
Our friends need us more than ever. Let's hold Iran and its terrorist organizations accountable.