Battling ISIS: Iran-Iraq War Redux
By Dahlia Wasfi
June 02, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "MEE"
- The US administration of Barack Obama - like its neoconservative
predecessor - has made military aggression the mainstay of its policy in the
Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Today, the “War on ISIS” has taken the
headlines from the “Global War on Terror,” but the storylines remain the same:
massive air assaults; death and destruction for the people under attack; floods
of refugees; and desperate humanitarian crises. President Obama continues to
hear criticism for his failure to swiftly defeat ISIS. But while crushing ISIS
may be the official stated goal, the actual agenda may be a long, drawn-out war
to weaken regional powers. We have seen this policy before - with many of the
same players - in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.
February 1979, the Iranian Revolution overthrew Shah Reza Pahlavi, the ruler of
Iran since 1953, when a CIA-orchestrated coup brought him to power. The Islamic
Republic of Iran was established by the Revolution under its first Supreme
Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Once the Shah’s US-friendly regime in Iran
was deposed, American administrators sought a new ally in the region. They
began to warm their relations with neighbouring Iraq, even though that country
was listed with the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Friction arose immediately between Ayatollah Khomeini and
Iraq’s Baathist government next door. President Saddam Hussein - also brought to
power with CIA help - already sought to crush any challenge to his secular
party’s rule posed by Islamists within Iraq. The emergence of theocracy in Iran
posed a new and concerning threat to his regime. Ayatollah Khomeini envisioned
expansion of Iran’s theocratic rule in the region, including to the Gulf
monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, which he - accurately - identified as corrupt.
As tensions continued to escalate, both the US and Saudi Arabia assured Saddam
Hussein that he had their backing in any armed conflict with Iran. In September
1980, with US encouragement, Saddam Hussein launched the Iran-Iraq War.
US President Ronald Reagan officially allied with Iraq during
the conflict. In secret, however, government officials sold arms to Iran, using
some of the profits to fund the Contras - anti-Sandinista paramilitary groups -
in Nicaragua. The scandal became known as the Iran-Contra Affair. While several
US administrators received slaps on the wrist for their illegal actions, the
greatest price was paid by the families of Iraq and Iran - not to mention
Nicaragua. The eight-year war, sustained by the US backing both sides, yielded
over a million casualties. The extended conflict also left two of the
strongest nations in the region bleeding and weakened with devastated
infrastructure, which benefited US and Israeli hegemony.
Today, comparably, the US is arming both sides of the current
war in the Gulf: the Sunni extremists of ISIS and the conservative Shia
theocrats of the Iraqi and Iranian governments that are also allied with Bashar
al-Assad’s secular rule in Syria. This tragic conflict gripping the region is a
direct consequence of the illegal US/UK-led invasion and occupation of Iraq in
Once Iraq’s secular government - known for its ruthlessness -
was deposed via the “Shock and Awe” invasion, US administrators installed
sectarian Shia leaders with strong ties to Iran into power. Many of these new
Iraqi officials had been forced into exile by Saddam Hussein decades earlier
because of their theocratic political ambitions. They found safe haven in Iran,
where their parties were supported by the government. Some of these men served
in the Iranian Army during the Iran-Iraq War. These Shia conservatives have
remained in power in Iraq through several rounds of controversial elections.
For example, current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, like his predecessors Nouri
al-Maliki and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, is a member of the conservative Shia Dawah
Party based in Iran. Their rule in Iraq has been characterised by brutal
repression of the population, including the use of death squads to eliminate
The “new” (since 2003) Iraqi Army has also been shaped by
Iranian influence. Former Badr Brigades commander, Bayan Jabr, organised the
Army’s ranks when he served as Iraq’s Minister of the Interior. Since its
inception, the new Army has consisted of young Iraqi recruits desperate for
paying jobs, as well as members of conservative Shia party militias from Iran.
This fighting force - armed, trained, and funded by the US - is today led by
General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian
Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The repressive theocratic Shia regime imposed on Iraq by US
occupiers inevitably spawned a counter movement: a sectarian Sunni opposition
faction which in the last several years has morphed into ISIS. Like the Iraqi
Army, ISIS is also comprised of foreign fighters and young Iraqis desperate for
paying jobs and an end to their oppression. According
to journalist Nafeez Ahmed, Western powers predicted the rise of a dangerous
extremist group such as ISIS in 2012. But not only did Western powers predict
ISIS, they supported its creation via funding and arms to extremist “rebel
groups” in Syria to serve as a check on Shia power in the region - power that
expanded as a result of US policy in Iraq in the first place. Now in 2015,
President Obama is not about to destroy the terror group that he and other
Western governments and regional allies helped to create.
Thus far, the main battlefields of the present conflict are
Iraq and Syria, but the frontlines may extend to Libya, Nigeria, and other
countries where Western policy has devastated populations and served as
recruiting tools for ISIS. Just as with Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, the people
of these nations pay the highest price. They suffer under bombing raids, bury
their loved ones, and desperately seek safety for their families. And just as
was the case in the 1980s, the devastation of these countries serves US and
Israeli hegemony, not to mention the CEOs of weapons manufacturers.
In 2014, ISIS took control of Iraq’s northern city of Tikrit,
then lost Tikrit in April 2015. Last month, the Iraqi Army lost control of
Ramadi; today, it is preparing to retake Ramadi. I expect the pattern of gains
and losses to continue. I also expect to hear about the “impending” threat of
ISIS on American shores for years to come.
As a pre-9/11/01 conflict, with no American boots on the
ground, the Iran-Iraq War had little media attention. Henry Kissinger famously
characterised his attitude towards the combatants with the statement, “too bad
both sides can’t lose”. But with direct US involvement in the “War on ISIS” and
the resultant need for public support, mainstream media has painted the ongoing
crisis as a battle between evil and good - the henchmen of ISIS vs. everyone
opposed to ISIS. As with the War on Terror, our choice is either to be with the
US or with the terrorists.
But American “help” in MENA over the last century has included
overthrowing governments, backing ruthless dictators, destroying infrastructure,
devastating the environment, creating frightening extremist groups, and
genocide. So I’m with neither the US nor the (other) terrorists. I’m with the
civilians of the region. They don’t need ISIS mortars, government barrel bombs
or US missiles raining down on them. What they need is an immediate ceasefire.
Let the people live. Let their families find shelter. Let the humanitarian aid
The suffering people of the region need a ceasefire.
They’ve had just about all the “help” from us they can take.
- Dahlia Wasfi is
an Iraqi-American physician and peace activist.