The most important point about Iran in Washington last week was not made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his Address to Congress. Rather, it was made by General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in comments he made during a testimony before Congress.
Sunni elements of the Iraqi Army and local militia have recently attacked the northern City of Tikrit in an attempt to take it back from a small IS force. Although it is not the most strategic military action in Iraq today, it is by far the most important. Iranian General Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, is leading the Iraqi force, which will also be reinforced by elements of his special operations troops. It is most important to consider the significance of the Sunni-Shia divide which still transcends all Middle East relations.
Prior to 2003, there was a fragile balance-of-power in the Middle East, as Saddam Hussein’s secular military served as a counterpoint to the Shia-dominated Iran. Since the US-led Coalition deposed of Saddam, however, Iraq has been controlled by a highly-partisan Shia government ever since.
Thus, the significance of General Dempsey’s response to questions about Iran’s current military involvement in Iraq. With a force of some 23,000, General Qassem is expected to easily defeat the several hundred strong IS Jihadists. But, as Dempsey asks, then what?
Consider where the concerns might lie:
1. Will the joint Shia Iraqi-Iranian military force just turn the area around Tikrit over to the local Sunni population to control? Probably not very likely.
2. Might some form of Baghdad-controlled government be established to manage the region?
3. Will Iran then assume a greater role in the government of Iraq?
4. What role will the U.S. continue to play, if any? Given the overwhelming force that is being committed to re-taking Tikrit, are we being set-up to be pushed aside?
5. What will the response of the neighboring Sunni-majority states be to an Iran-Iraq Shia partnership?
6. As General Dempsey asks: “…but, then what?”