WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - The Hudson Institute, a prominent Washington DC think-tank, hosted a seminar on Thursday entitled, “Iran’s Entrenched Footprint in Iraq and Syria.”
During the seminar, Dr. Ranj Alaaldin of the Brookings Institution in Doha, Qatar, described one important consequence of the Oct. 16 assault on Kirkuk by Iraqi forces in combination with Iranian-backed militias, and the neutral, hands-off stance that Washington took toward it.
Those developments increased Iranian influence over the Kurdistan Region, Alaaldin told the Hudson Institute audience.
“It’s a travesty that post-Kirkuk, the US’ foremost allies in the region, historic allies, the Kurds, the Peshmerga, now truly depend on Iran for survival,” Alaaldin bluntly affirmed.
The Kurds’ “strategy has shifted” since the referendum and the attack on Kirkuk. “They’re now looking toward Tehran just to salvage what they have left,” he continued.
When Kurdistan 24 asked the Brookings scholar to expand on his initial comments, he explained, “What Kirkuk essentially meant for the Kurds is they can’t rely on the US for now, as they had been.”
“They just don’t know whether America will be there,” he continued, “if there is a similar crisis again.”
The Kurds “are being economically suffocated,” Alaaldin stated, and “they are suffering politically as well.” They recognize that to deal with this situation, they “have to repair relations with Baghdad.”
However, that is also “a way of reassuring Iran,” he emphasized.
This is an established Iranian modus operandi, which Alaaldin described in a recent New York Times opinion piece and at the Hudson Institute.
“Iran doesn’t play by the rules,” he said. It intimidates, kills, bribes—and so forth. “But at the same time,” the Iranians “put themselves forward as partners,” including to groups aligned with the West, like the Kurds or Arab Sunnis.
In order to survive, absent support from the West, a group like the Kurds has little choice but to accommodate Tehran.
At present, that accommodation is limited and would almost certainly change if US policy shifted.
However, “if things continue as they are,” he cautioned, US-aligned actors “will continue to engage” with their rivals, including Iraq, “by way of an Iran-centric lens.”
“We’re talking about temporary dependency today, but if this continues for five years or, perhaps, somewhat more, we’re going to see greater Iranian investments in Iraqi Kurdistan.”
“Then that could develop into something much more significant,” he said, “including a more significant Iranian military infrastructure in Kurdistan itself.”
“This could be a number of years down the line,” he said, “but do not rule these scenarios out.”
He stressed that Tehran plays a “long game,” in contrast to the US, noting that Qassim Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, “has invested decades in developing relations” with Shia communities in key countries in the region.
US officials, however, “come and go.”
Alaaldin’s remarks echoed those of Ryan Crocker, US ambassador to Iraq from 2007 until 2009, during “the surge,” who addressed another Washington think-tank the day before.
Crocker spoke of America’s short-term perspective, contrasting it with that of Hafez al-Assad, Syrian president from 1970 until his death in 2000.
Crocker was posted to the US embassy in Beirut in 1983, when it was bombed by a Syrian-Iranian combination, part of a successful effort by those two countries to drive Israel, as well as the US, from Lebanon, following Israel’s 1982 invasion of that country.
Some fifteen years later—from 1998 to 2001—Crocker was America’s ambassador to Syria.
“In every single meeting I was in with Hafiz al-Assad—he knew my experience in Lebanon at his hands,” Crocker explained, “he would find a way to say something like, “We are long of breath” in Syria.”
The implication was that Americans are very short of breath, Crocker told his Washington audience.
Perhaps, also, Assad took some pleasure in repeatedly reminding the US envoy of which party, at the end of the day, had prevailed in Lebanon.
Editing by Nadia Riva