Iraq can now count Iran among the groups of nations that want to help rid the country of ISIS fighters. Two U.S. defense officials said Iranian forces have taken a significant offensive role in the Beiji operation in recent days.
Iran is invested in the Iraqi counteroffensive to retake the oil refinery at Beiji. Their involvement revolves around “operating artillery, 122mm rocket systems and surveillance and reconnaissance drones.” This tactic seems to be making headway as a recent U.S. report claims the coalition of security forces have established a land route into the refinery. The efforts have enabled the Iraqi forces to resupply isolated forces inside the refinery.
While it appears Iran’s involvement is helping, it is a major complicating factor for the Obama administration. The administration is intent on stemming the Islamic State tide; however, it is yet to be seen what type of role Iran can take in the efforts. Currently the administration is allowing the Iranian contributions but they have made it clear they must operate under the control of Iraqi military command.
The exact type of role Iran has taken on is not completely clear yet. In fact, when asked about the newly emerging role of Iranian forces in Beiji, the U.S. command in Kuwait declined to comment directly, citing ‘operational security reasons.’ At the outset it appears that they are helping due to an interest in the stability of the area, but Tony Cordesman, a Middle East expert, believes Iran may be contributing as a way to help establish Shiite dominance in the area.
The reasons for Iran’s involvement may be more complicated than that however, Cordesman goes on to explain what he think are two possible reasons for the Iranian involvement:
“‘At best, they are still pursuing a policy of competing with the United States for military influence over the Iraqi military and police, Shiite militias, and even influence over Iraq’s Kurds,’ Cordesman wrote in an analysis published Thursday. ‘At worst — and ‘at worst’ now seems more likely than ‘at best’ — Iran’s leaders are seeking an Iraq where Iran has dominant influence’ after the Islamic State threat has been overcome.”
While it may take some time for the U.S. to see what the Iranian presence really means, it is certain that ISIS is not the only piece of the puzzle in the Middle East peace process.[AP]