The recent events in and by Iran have caused an open shift in US support to Iraqi Kurdistan. The state-sanctioned murder by hanging of three Iranian Kurds should have been major headlines throughout the world, but most remained silent. Direct attacks by Tehran on Iranian dissident political parties’ facilities in Iraq, however, appear to have woken up some in the administration.
It must be apparent to the US and the rest of the world that Iran is becoming more of a threat in the past year than could have been imagined. Its continued and growing control of the Iraqi government, coupled with its buildup of forces in Syria, must be addressed.
The attacks on Kurdistan and the green zone in Baghdad, as well as the confrontation in Basra, are meant as a clear warning to the US that Tehran is in control. The buildup in Syria, as well, must be an indicator of Iranian intent to spread death and destruction via its terror networks.
Acknowledging the Iranian problem, US Vice-President Mike Pence spoke to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, and stressed the importance of US relationship with the Kurds and Iraq. While a step in the right direction, the readout on the call from the White House still showed the US more inclined to support its one-Iraq policy while PM Barzani referenced the relations between the US and the Kurds.
While the rest of the world sees the conflict in the region as a single battle that includes an enemy of combined state-and-terrorist make-up, the US is stuck in seeing localized battles. The US view that Iran, Iraq, and Syria are individual battlefields, with the Islamic State as the main focus of effort, fails to understand the threat.
The conflict is being controlled from Iran and being waged as a single war. While Iranian military support to the various factions fighting the West for control of the region is part of the plan, it is Iranian intelligence planning, however, that is the major threat to the region and the world.
The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence which has been responsible for assassinations inside Iran as well as around the world. More importantly is its ability to control the activities of disparate terrorist groups as well as a source of intelligence and training for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Iranian Intelligence seems to understand western customs and culture much better then western intelligence agencies understand customs and cultures other than their own.
Iranian intelligence understands the West, especially the US’ reluctance to accept change in international borders or to understand its own tunnel vision in regard to terrorist attacks. In the West’s view of the world, all problems are contained within the neat borders that the west has designated. Iran will ignore artificial borders in order to extend its influence as far as possible.
It also allows Iran to manipulate western foreign policy. Following the US withdrawal from the ill-conceived Iran nuclear deal, Iran worked on Europe to continue business as usual and began to threaten to resume its march to a nuclear weapon, knowing these touch western sensibilities. Following the announcement of an independence referendum for the Kurdish region, Iranian proxies in the Iraqi government went on an all-out campaign to push the US to try and stop the Kurds. When that did not work, Baghdad attacked its Kurdish citizens with US-made equipment and with the aid and assistance of Iranian trained and controlled militias. Currently, Iraq is attempting to form a new government, with the two leading blocs unable to come to accommodate. Both of this blocs are, in one way or another, connected to Iran, which will likely make the final decision.
Therefore, knowing the West’s penchant for meaningless diplomacy and its reticence to use force, Iran felt comfortable in hanging three Iranian Kurds, for the crime of being Kurds, and launching missiles across an international border at perceived enemies, again Kurds, secure in the fact that there would be no retaliatory strikes on Iran. Tehran is also confident in the knowledge that the West will never recognize an independent Kurdistan.
The way to change some of this is first and foremost an increase in counterintelligence operations from all western countries which will be more effective than any attempt to increase counterterrorism operations, at least until we get a handle on Iranian and other intelligence operations and capabilities.
The next is a shift in the way the West must see the modern world. We must come to understand how Iran and others perceive the world. The concept of a unified Islamic world, Ummah, is real and overrides all borders. The West forgets they had a similar belief, which was called Christendom, a dated term whose meaning is lost to most.
The West must accept the truth of another’s culture and customs without prejudice but as knowledge. We must not allow a foreign power to manipulate us or allow our own biases to stop us from doing the right thing.
Most importantly we must never abandon our friends for political expediency. The missile launches were said to be a warning to the West of Iran capabilities. I suggest an anti-missile battery or two be placed in Erbil.
Paul Davis is a Senior Fellow at Soran University and a retired US Army military intelligence officer. He has been a consultant to the American intelligence community specializing in the Middle East with a concentration on Kurdish affairs. Currently, he is the President of the consulting firm JANUS Think in Washington DC.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.
Editing by Nadia Riva