A recent article in the New York Times written by the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was breathtaking in its hypocrisy. Addressing the conflict in Yemen he said: “Our plan calls for an immediate cease-fire, humanitarian assistance and facilitation of intra-Yemeni dialogue.” Tehran's conduct, however, flies in the face of such rhetoric. Just this month, an Iranian convoy of ships, suspected of carrying arms bound for the Houthi rebels in Yemen, was forced to turn around by a U.S. aircraft carrier and warships deployed off Yemen’s coast. Tehran is suspected of supplying Yemeni rebels with a steady stream of arms and cash, revealing its true regional intentions.
Contrary to Zarif's peace-loving message, since the formation of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the Ayatollahs have been pursuing a global Islamic empire or caliphate, through the export of their fundamentalist ideology. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its extraterritorial arm, the Quds Force, whose operatives conduct special operations in Lebanon, Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, among other hotspots, execute their foreign policy doctrine.
In Iraq, growing Iranian influence is a major stumbling block for national reconciliation. The commander of Iran’s terrorist Quds Force, General Qasem Soleimani, was photographed on the battleground during the recent Tikrit offensive. The Shi’ite militias assisting him, like Asai'b Ahl Al-Haq, Badr Organisation and Hezbollah Brigades, are all responsible for abductions, summary executions, beheadings, torture and the forcible displacement of thousands of Iraqi civilians in areas recaptured from the Islamic State (ISIS). Soleimani planned to use a potential victory in Tikrit to extend Tehran's influence in Iraq even further.
However, such a victory proved elusive and as the offensive stalled in March, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi requested U.S. air support. It was a great mistake of Washington to use its airstrikes effectively to ally itself with the brutal Shi’ite militias, many of whom have American blood on their hands and who continue to wage an almost genocidal campaign against the Sunni population of Iraq. Tikrit, the former home of Saddam Hossein, has now been “liberated,” but it is the flags of these brutal Shi'ite militias that are waving high on buildings. They continue looting private properties of former residents who are, rightfully, too afraid to return to their homes, despite government assurances for their safety and protection.
During Abadi's visit to Washington in April, President Obama warned Tehran that its fighters must respect Iraq’s sovereignty and be accountable to Baghdad regarding all matters in the current conflict. At another meeting in Washington, Abadi tried to explain the photographs of Quds Force commander Soleimani in Iraq, saying, “To be honest with you, it’s a very sensitive issue. Iraqi sovereignty is very important for us….Iraqis are sacrificing to save their country. To make it appear as if others are doing this on behalf of Iraqis, Iraqis wouldn’t accept that.” Expecting Iran to respect Iraq’s sovereignty is nothing short of delusional given Tehran's track record of meddling in the affairs of its regional neighbors, particularly Iraq. It should come as no surprise to Prime Minister al-Abadi that the Quds Force is taking all the credit in the battle against ISIS given their increasing role in Iraq.
Naturally, these are the consequences of partnering with an evil regime which does not abide by the rules of the international community and is certainly not interested in upholding the national interest of Iraq. Abadi must not forget how his predecessor's alliance with Iran led to Iraq's regional isolation and alienated the Sunni population, facilitating the rise of ISIS. Abadi took some courageous measures when he assumed office in September last year, including cracking down on corruption in government institutions and the armed forces. Still, he has failed so far to dismantle pro-Iranian Shi'ite militias who continue to commit atrocities against civilians with impunity.
Abadi has also not pushed through the necessary judicial reforms. Currently, tens of thousands, mostly Sunni men, remain in prison. Most of their sentences are based on information provided by secret informants to judicial officials, or confessions obtained under duress, instead of forensic evidence. The Sunni community of Iraq is wary of joining the armed forces in the war against ISIS as they feel that they would be replacing one form of oppression with another. As long as these crucial issues remain unaddressed by Abadi and his cabinet, national reconciliation will become another pipe dream for the people of Iraq, with far-reaching consequences for the region as a whole.
Stevenson was a Conservative MEP representing Scotland in the European Parliament from 1999 until his retirement in 2014. He was president of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014. He is now president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).