The Obama administration, according to various reports, could be considering talks with Iran on cooperating to prevent ISIS from gaining more ground in Iraq. It is nearly impossible to picture US-Iranian cooperation given the history between the two nations since 1979. A common enemy and threatened interests can make for strange bedfellows, however. The possibility of a US-Iranian alliance against ISIS appears to be a possibility at the very least. Whether the idea will become a reality is another story entirely. Make no mistake about it, though, a joint effort against ISIS would not signal rapprochement between the United States and Iran. But for now the animosity is taking a backseat as both nations look to find a way to prop up the Iraqi government, blunt ISIS and prevent Iraq from disintegrating into civil war à la Syria.
At first glance it might seem strange for Iran to be taking such a keen interest in the stability and well-being of its eastern neighbor. The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s was a bitter, bloody affair for both nations. A deeper look at the last ten years shows that Iran has a large stake of influence in Iraq and it begins at the top echelon of power in the Iraqi government. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has close ties to Iran. He lived in Tehran for eight years in the 1980s and while there, assisted in the efforts to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime. Since taking power in Baghdad, Maliki has opened the door for Iranian influence in Iraq. Iran regards its relationship with Maliki and Iraq as essential. It does not want to lose the influence it has obtained. Therefore, it is shouldn’t come as a surprise that Iran is sending Revolutionary Guards to help bolster the Iraqi military, or that Tehran might honestly consider a partnership with the United States to combat ISIS.
As of this afternoon, the United States does not seem as upbeat about talks with Iran as it did yesterday and this morning. Secretary of State John Kerry suggests the idea of cooperation is possible while the Pentagon has stated emphatically that will be no military coordination with Iran. Collaboration between the two countries is something that will not be an easy sell inside of the Beltway or out. What could the US stand to gain from allying itself with Iran outside of a stable Iraq? The end result could very well be a wider open door for Iranian influence and a closed one for the United States.
US actions over the weekend appeared to be focused on evacuating the US embassy staff if the situation calls for it, instead of using military force against ISIS. The Fifth Fleet is moving assets into the Persian Gulf that will be able to support the operation. On Friday, President Obama called on Iraq to ‘settle its problems.’ This, along with Kerry’s comments today could point to the United States making a concerted effort to absolve itself of everything Iraq.