In the years following the 1979 Iran revolution, Washington and Tehran’s interests have rarely coincided. But following the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), this has changed. ISIS, the extremist Al Qaeda offshoot, has embarked on a campaign of violence against Shia Muslims. Iranian concerns can be boiled down to a feeling of responsibility to the Shia world. In light of ISIS’s threats to destroy key holy sites, the Iranian regime feels compelled to act. Washington’s concerns are much broader, but are driven by a desire to prevent the proliferation of extremism. Both Washington and Tehran are vehemently opposed to the continued expansion of ISIS. As a consequence, they find themselves on the same side in what has become an increasingly bloody conflict. It is seemingly in both states’ interests to engage in dialogue and cooperation to act against ISIS. Dr Simon Mabon is a lecturer in international relations at Lancaster University and a research associate at The Foreign Policy Centre.
As a group that deems Al Qaeda too moderate seizes more territory in Iraq, the United States and Iran find themselves on the same side. But the enemy of my enemy is not always a friend. Giddy diplomats should not see cooperation in Iraq as a path to US-Iran reconciliation. Iran has reportedly inserted Revolutionary Guardsmen in Iraq. But the problem is their exit. Iran’s Achilles Heel is extreme Shiism; the supreme leader considers himself the deputy of the messiah on Earth. To have other Shia clerics speak independently strikes at his legitimacy. His answer has been to use militias to crush dissent. Over 30 years ago, Iran intervened in Lebanon, and Hezbollah continues to undercut the Lebanese state. In Syria, Iranian advisers are complicit in some of the country’s worst atrocities. As Iraq rallies its own forces, the West should not sacrifice Iraq’s sovereignty for short-term gain. Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and author of Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes.