KASU

For Once, The U.S., Russia And Iran Actually Agree On Something

Jul 3, 2014
Originally published on July 3, 2014 1:05 pm

The ferocious charge across much of Iraq by militants now calling themselves the Islamic State has created something almost unheard of in the highly divisive Middle East: international consensus.

The U.S. and its allies, as well as some American rivals, including Russia and Iran, are all opposed to the Sunni group formerly known as ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, noted Rachel Bronson, a Mideast expert with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

"Here you have this case where ISIS is so violent and it's now moved across borders, so it's not a Syria problem or an Iraq war but it's a regional problem that is driving everybody into it to try and figure out how to contain and expel them," she said.

Consider the complications: The militants are a common enemy of Washington and the Syrian government. Iran, another U.S. adversary, is also against ISIS. And then there's Saudi Arabia and Iran — polar opposites ideologically, but both with an interest in stopping the Sunni extremists.

Bronson said the crisis creates a vacuum in the region that everyone is trying to fill.

"I think we can expect everyone to intervene, meddle, whatever term you use, because it's in everyone's self-interest to make sure ... that they're in the game to shape whatever the outcome and that their own regional adversaries don't dominate the political landscape," she said.

Bronson said instead of presenting a united front to combat the Islamic State militants, countries are acting unilaterally, vying for influence in Iraq. The U.S. is pushing a political solution, but is also sending in hundreds of military advisers and using surveillance drones, and has kept open the option of airstrikes.

Saudi Arabia is donating $500 million toward humanitarian assistance.

Syria has launched airstrikes against the militants.

Iran has sent in advisers and is reportedly using its own drones over Iraq. At a recent conference sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Iraq's ambassador to the U.S., Lukman Faily, said Iran has also offered military assistance.

"We have always tried to resist that. However, the situation on the ground may push us to acquire more support from our neighbor," Faily said. "We are aware there are international norms and there are international rules against purchases or dealing with Iran in the military way, and we have not."

But Iraq did accept the first five of a dozen Russian fighter jets that Baghdad had ordered. Faily said Iraq would have preferred American-made F16s and Apache attack helicopters but that the the U.S. was too slow in delivering them.

"I think the formula we have declared is simple: We have a need; there is a void," the ambassador said. "If the U.S. can't fill that void, whomever is available, including Russia, then they will come to fill that void."

Paul Salem, with the Middle East Institute in Washington, said this offers President Vladimir Putin the chance to increase Russia's position.

"Putin, wherever there is a Sunni radical threat, he immediately takes a position against it," Salem said. "He's waded into the Middle East big time in Syria. The wading into Iraq is an easy one, and indeed he is extending his footprint in the Middle East."

Salem says a lack of coordination stems from the Sunni-Shiite fault line that runs through the region. He says unless a political deal is reached, all sides involved in Iraq will likely continue to work against each other.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now the push by Sunni extremists in Iraq has alarmed the United States as well as Russia and Iran, which seems like a moment to remember an old saying; the enemy of my enemy is my friend. It hasn't worked out that way, as NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The ferocious charge across much of Iraq by militants calling themselves the Islamic State has created something almost unheard of in the highly divisive Middle East - consensus. Longtime allies and enemies engaged in the region have formed common cause against the Sunni group formally known as ISIS, says Rachel Bronson, a Mideast expert with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

RACHEL BRONSON: Here you have this case where ISIS is so violent, and it's now moved across borders. So it's not a Syria problem or an Iraq war, but it's a regional problem, that it is driving everybody into it to try to figure out how to contain and expel them.

NORTHAM: Consider the complications; the militants are a common enemy for Washington and a Syrian government which the U.S. is trying to oust - also for Iran, another U.S. adversary. And then there's Saudi Arabia and Iran - polar opposites ideologically, but both with an interest in stopping the Sunni extremists. Bronson says the crisis creates a vacuum in the region which everyone is trying to fill.

BRONSON: So I think we can expect everyone to intervene, meddle, whatever term you use, because it's in everybody's self-interest to make sure they're in the game to shape whatever the outcome is and that their own regional adversaries don't dominate the political landscape.

NORTHAM: Bronson says instead of presenting a united front to combat the Islamic State militants, countries are acting unilaterally, vying for influence in Iraq. The U.S. is pushing for a political solution but is also sending in hundreds of military advisers, using surveillance drones and has kept open the option of airstrikes. Saudi Arabia has donated half a billion dollars towards humanitarian assistance. Syria has already launched airstrikes against the militants. And Iran has sent in an advisors and is reportedly using its own drones over Iraq. At a recent conference sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Iraq's ambassador to the U.S., Lukman Faily, says Iran has also offered military assistance.

LUKMAN FAILY: We have always tried to resist that; however the situation on the ground may push us to acquire more support from our neighbor. We are aware that our international norms and our international rules against purchases or dealing with the Iran in a military way. And we have not.

NORTHAM: But Iraq did accept the first five of a dozen ordered Russian fighter jets. Faily said Iraq would've preferred American-made F-16s and Apache attack helicopters, but the U.S. was too slow in delivering them.

FAILY: I think the formula we have declared is simple. We have a need. There is a void. If U.S. can't fill that void, whomever is available, including Russia, then they will come to fill that void.

NORTHAM: Paul Salem with Middle East Institute says this offers President Vladimir Putin the chance to increase Russia's global position.

PAUL SALEM: Putin, wherever there is a Sunni radical threat, he immediately takes a position against it. He's waded into the Middle East big time on Syria. The wade into Iraq is an easy one, and indeed he is expanding his footprint the Middle East.

NORTHAM: Salem says a lack of coordination stems from the Sunni-Shia fault line that runs through the region. He says unless a political deal is reached, all sides involved in Iraq will likely continue to work against each other. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.