Just Politics: Iran, Like the Rest, Is Not Blameless
22 June 2015
By Ramzy Baroud
When the United States government declared its war on Afghanistan in October
2001, thus taking the first step in its so-called ‘war on terror', following the
devastating attacks of September 11 earlier that year, Iran jumped on board.
Then Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, dubbed a reformist, provided
substantial assistance in the US effort aimed at defeating the Taliban, an
ardent enemy of Iran and Afghan Shia. Indeed, the Taliban's aggressive policies
included an anti-Shia drive, which resulted in a massive refugee problem. Tens
of thousands of Afghan Shia sought refuge in Iran.
Khatami's ‘friendly' gesture towards the anti-terror crusade lead by George W.
Bush was not by any means an Iranian departure from a supposed policy of
non-intervention in the region. Iran is a country with porous borders, political
and strategic interests, serious and legitimate fears, but also unquestionable
Iran's intervention in Afghanistan never ceased since then, and is likely to
continue, especially following the US withdrawal, whenever it takes place.
Iran's earlier role in Afghanistan ranged from the arrest of al-Qaeda suspects,
sought by Washington, to training Afghan soldiers, to direct intervention in the
country's politics so as to ensure that the country's politics are aligned to
meet Iranian expectations.
None of this should come as a surprise. Iran has been under massive scrutiny
since the Iranian revolution in 1979. It has been threatened, sanctioned,
punished, and for nearly a decade fought a massive war with Iraq. Nearly half a
million soldiers, and an estimated equal number of civilians perished in the
‘long war' when Iraq and Iran, using World War II tactics, sparred over
territories, waterways access, resources, regional dominance and more. Both
parties used conventional and non-conventional weapons to win the ugly conflict.
But regardless of the thinking behind Iran's current regional ambitions, one
cannot pretend that Iran is an innocent force in the Middle East, solely aimed
at self-preservation. This reading is as incorrect as that, championed by Israel
and its remaining neoconservative friends in Washington, which see Iran as a
threat that must be eradicated for the Middle East to achieve peace and
When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, Iran immediately moved to rearrange the
country's politics to suit its interests. It poured massive funds and a
limitless arsenal to aid its allies, Shia political parties and notorious
militias. Expectedly, Iran wanted to ensure that the American debacle in Iraq
deepens, so Tehran doesn't become the next US war destination. To do so,
however, Iran, jointly, although indirectly with the Americans, savaged the once
strongest Arab country.
The Shia government and its numerous militias killed, butchered, abused and
humiliated Sunnis, especially tribes, which were seen as particularity
influential following the destruction of the Baath regime and other centers of
supposed Sunni seats of power.
That reductionist understanding of Iraqi society was both championed by
Washington and Tehran. The horrible consequences of that understanding raised an
unprecedented animosity towards Iran, and, expectedly towards Shia in general
throughout much of the region.
However, the key role played by Hezbollah, a mainly Shia party and fighting
force, in ending the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in 2000, and driving the
Israelis out once more in 2006, balanced out the damage inflicted by Iran's
destructive role in Iraq. Hezbollah's ability to keep Israel at bay was more
than enough to challenge the sectarian argument.
Things changed however with the arrival of the so-called Arab Spring. Iran and
its regional enemies, in the Gulf, and later Turkey, perceived the upheaval in
the Arab world as a serious threat, but also an opportunity.
It was a great game par excellence, which is now on full display in Yemen, and
of course, Syria and elsewhere.
While one may argue that ultimately the ongoing wars in the Middle East are not
rooted in any sectarian tendencies, but the outcome of a political power play
that span decades, there is no denial that the sectarian component of the war is
now a defining one, and that Iran, like the Gulf, Turkey, Israel, the US and
their Western allies, are all implicated.
They may all claim some rational dialectic through which to justify or explain
their involvement, but few can claim innocence in the suffering of millions of
During the Iraq-Iran war (1980-88), the US stood on the side of Iraq, providing
logistical and military support. Iran has no trust of the US or respect for its
foreign policy. But Tehran also understands that the US, despite its waning
influence, will remain an important party in the Middle East, and therefore has
tailored its policies with that understanding in mind. Iran cooperates with the
US when its suits both parties interests, as they did in Afghanistan, Iraq, and
now against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS).
From Tehran's viewpoint, its regional expansion can be partly seen as a defense
mechanism: a powerful and influential Iran would decrease the chances of a
US-Israeli aggression. Just recently, the European Union top diplomat called on
Iran to ''play a major, major but positive, role on Syria in particular, to
encourage the regime to … (support) a Syrian-led transition.''
For Iran, such statements are political leverage which, to a degree, indicate
the success of its strategy in Syria, one that involved major military support
of the Assad government, and direct military intervention. It's irrefutable that
Iran's role in Syria has been following the same sectarian lines that it
followed, and continues to adhere to in Iraq. While Iran's fight against the
brutes of IS is undeniable, Iran's responsibility in the rise of Sunni
militarism in the first place must also not be denied.
While Iran is sustaining several fronts in its current role in the Middle East
great game, it hopes to translate its palpable regional ascendency into
political capital, one that the Iranian government wants to translate to a final
nuclear deal before June 30. That deal could spare Iran further conflict with
the West, or at least lessen the fervor of war championed by rightwing Israeli
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies.
Current media and political discourses attempting to rationalize the multiple
conflicts in the Middle East region tend to invest in one singular reading,
which tends to demonize one party and completely spare others. While the role of
regional actors in supporting extremists in Syria and Iraq, which lead to the
formation of IS is known and openly discussed, Iran cannot be spared the blame.
Iran is part and parcel of ongoing conflicts, has contributed to some, reacted
to others; it labored to defeat US ambitions, but also cooperated with
Washington when their interests intersected. It is as sectarian as the rest, and
This is not an attempt at implicating Iran, but an attempt at an honest reading
into a war involving many parties, whose hands are equally bloody.
– Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years.
He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of
several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My
Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His
website is: ramzybaroud.net.