Iran’s Iraq Calculations

With the spread of ethnic and sectarian violence in Iraq, Iran’s image as an island of stability in a conflict-ridden Middle East may prove to be short-lived. Its government now faces serious questions over its Iraq policy, which could eventually threaten Iran’s own national security.

WASHINGTON, DC – With the spread of ethnic and sectarian violence in Iraq – brought to new levels of terror by the rise of the Islamic State (IS) – Iran’s image as an island of stability in a conflict-ridden Middle East may be short-lived. Its government – already struggling to manage a decrepit economy and tricky nuclear negotiations with the international community – now faces serious questions over its Iraq policy and a “winner-takes-all” mindset that could eventually threaten Iran’s own national security.

Iran’s policy toward its western neighbor appears to have two main goals: preservation of influence there, and prevention of any spillover of Iraq’s ethnic conflicts into its own multi-ethnic and multi-confessional society. But, as Iran steps up military support for the Iraqi government, Iranian officials fear, quite reasonably, that intervention could suck the country into an open-ended sectarian civil war.

Iran took a big step in that direction following the fall of Mosul on June 10, when regular Iraqi army units disbanded and fled in the face of a few hundred IS fighters. With Iraq’s then-prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, losing his grip on the country, Iran quickly decided to send military advisers, drones, and, by some accounts, Iranian-piloted fighter jets.

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