Originally published on Forbes
Mr. Basiri is an Iranian human rights activist and supporter of democratic regime change in Iran.
A misinterpretation of the principle “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has led some to believe that the Iranian regime can actually be a contributing force to the international efforts that aim at eliminating the threat caused by the Islamic State, an extremist group that has in past months taken over a swath of territory straddling Iraq and Syria and aims at establishing what it purports to be an Islamic Caliphate.
The argument that backs such a proposition is that as a radical Sunni group, the Islamic State would prove to be an enemy of the radical Shiite regime ruling Iran, and thus Iran can be counted on to fight the Islamic State.
What this naïve thinking misses altogether is that beneath their superficial differences, the two entities actually depend on each other to survive and further pursue their nefarious deeds.
Iran is the main beneficiary of the Islamic State’s rampage
As a state-sponsor of terrorism and fundamentalism, and one of the regimes with the worst human rights records across the globe, Iran has been able to benefit immensely from the havoc that the Islamic State has wreaked across Iraq and Syria.
In Iraq, the Iranian regime has used the rise of the Islamic State as an excuse to surge thousands of troops through the porous Iran-Iraq border and notch up the violent activities of its many proxy militia groups in the country. But rather than fighting the Islamic State, Iran’s real agenda is to expand and strengthen its hold on Iraqi soil and politics.
The same goes for Syria, where under the banner of fighting terrorism, Iran has virtually invaded the country with IRGC forces (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) and its Hezbollah proxy in order to shore up embattled President Bashar al-Assad against democratic opposition forces.
What’s more, taking advantage of the state of confusion and disorder in Iraq, Iran has been using its agents in the Iraqi government and military to strike against Camp Liberty, where thousands of members of Iran’s main opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), and survivors of the Iranian regime’s brutality and repression are residing.
In the human rights domain, the Islamic State has helped take some of the heat off the Iranian regime, which is otherwise severely criticized for its staggering violation of human rights. While public attention is largely focused on graphic images and horrible accounts of the Islamic State’s savagery, the Iranian regime continues to carry out executions and torture at an unprecedented rate, persecute minorities and women, and crackdown on journalists and internet for irrational reasons.
Using terrorism as a tool for extortion has been the oldest trick in the Iranian regime’s playbook, and now it is using the Islamic State as leverage in the ongoing negotiations over its illicit nuclear program. As the November 24 deadline for a nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers draws near, Iranian officials are pressing their counterparts in the talks to show more flexibility on Iran’s uranium enrichment program and allow Iran to retain its nuclear weapons capability in exchange for its participation in the fight against the Islamic State.
With all benefits that Iran collects from the presence of the Islamic State in the region, it’s hard to imagine it becoming a contributing partner in the international efforts to eliminate the threat caused by the group.
Iran’s meddling in Iraq and Syria helped spawn the Islamic State
Iran has long proven that it has no problem aligning with Sunni extremist groups to further its ends. For years, Iran has helped Sunni extremists infiltrate countries such as Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon and then rush in as the only safeguard against the very forces it has helped unleash.
The Islamic State is no exception to this rule. In fact, the leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the forerunner group to Islamic State, had for years received support and shelter from the Iranian regime.
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the Iranian and Assad regimes have intentionally allowed the Islamic State to grow and flourish in order to weaken the more moderate groups that are striving for the establishment of a democratic government in Syria. They have thus tried to present the Islamic State as the most prominent group fighting the Syrian regime and frame the Syrian question as a choice between Assad and Islamic fundamentalism.
Furthermore, the Assad regime has been a source of income for the Islamic State as it has been secretly purchasing oil from the extremist group, which now controls oil wells in Syria and Iraq.
In Iraq, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki undertook sectarian-oriented policies at the behest of the Iranian regime, disenfranchising the Sunni community and setting the stage for an all-out uprising. The Islamic State took advantage of al-Maliki’s mess to establish its stronghold in regions that had fallen out with the central government.
Given all it owes to the Iranian regime, the Islamic State refrains from directly posing any threat to Tehran. That is why you don’t hear much about the Islamic State threatening Iranian soil, even though it is within its reach.
Iran is the problem, not the solution
It is time for the international community to recognize that as the common denominator of chaos in the Middle East, the Iranian regime is the problem, not the solution.
The least the U.S. and its allies can do in this respect is to avoid including Iran in the current campaign against the Islamic State. History has proven that any involvement of the Iranian regime in the fight against terrorism will only yield disastrous results as it will only help further propagation of Islamic fundamentalism and sectarian violence.
But establishing durable peace and stability in Iraq, Syria, and the broader Middle East region can only become feasible when the regime in Tehran – the source of the problem – is replaced with a secular and democratic government. Thus can the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and emergence of groups like the Islamic State be stifled at its root.