Saturday, September 13, 2014

Kerry's coalition

The United States Secretary of State has made clear that his country has no intention of working with Tehran in defeating Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. 

by Paul Iddon
Kerry and Zarif, July 2014 / Public Domain
Mr. John Kerry has been busy in recent days and weeks building his anti-IS regional coalition. As of writing ten regional countries (out of about forty in total) have "agreed to do their share in the comprehensive fight" against the terror group to help the United States to "degrade and destroy" it. Iran is not welcome in this coalition since Kerry views such a participation as "inappropriate" given the Iranian regimes continued support of Syria's Assad and the Hezbollah which is also fighting in Syria.

In his op-ed in The New York Times late last month Kerry said he seeks to loosely model his coalition against IS on the one built to confront Saddam Hussein after his annexation of Kuwait in 1990 – obviously it will be of a significantly different nature considering IS is a much more irregular force than the conventional Iraqi Army circa 1991. Realpolitik played a major role in that coalition. Especially whereby Syria's welcome inclusion was concerned. Back then Saddam's Baathist rival in Damascus essentially got a freehand in annexing Lebanon and brutally suppressing and executing at least 500 Lebanese soldiers in October 1990. A largely overlooked, overshadowed, and consequently largely forgotten, incident.

The present coalition essentially consists of Europe and the authoritarian Gulf monarchies (Turkey has refused to permit US aircraft based on its territory to attack IS from there fearing IS retribution will be taken against Turkish diplomats that group is still holding hostage in Iraq) against IS. Support of the Gulf states was obviously necessitated by the fact that US jets fly from bases situated in Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE. These states may even participate in strikes against IS forces. But what was interesting was their recent pledge that they will crackdown upon any funding reaching IS from their home turf so they aren't essentially hosting the financiers of those the US is targeting.

The Iranian regime has accused these Gulf states of supporting jihadi elements in Syria. Conservative elements within the regimes establishment say that Iran does not wish to cooperate but that such a cooperation isn't possible. Iran's armed forces deputy chief of staff who told Iran's Fars News that, "The reason for this is that Iran stands against [IS], but America created [IS]." However Ayatollah Rafsanjani has left the door open to the prospect of limited cooperation aimed at IS when he recently said it's possibly provided "America shows honesty."

Iran has of course taken an interest on what is going on essentially in its backyard, that doesn't necessarily mean that this regimes conduct in the region is exemplary or even in all cases justified – such as its support for dangerous sectarian militias. It did however support the Iraqi Kurds by providing them with arms when all the United States and its allies were providing was repetitive and unoriginal rhetoric. As Massoud Barzani pointed out, they acted at a time when everyone else was just talking about acting.

That's another element which hasn't been very widely discussed regarding potential allies that are actually on the ground in Syria to coordinate operations against IS there. Not the Free Syrian Army but Syria's Kurds. Sadly many of the Kurds fighting in defense of their homeland in Rojava are considered by the United States to be terrorists given their proximity to the PKK group. Which is a pity because they are an organized force on the ground that have a record of fighting IS. At the very least coordinating with them should be considered and the United States' stance towards that group reconsidered and reevaluated.

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