TEHRAN, Iran — The rapid advance of Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) forces and the quick fall of Mosul on June 10 has become a matter of concern in Tehran, as the Iraqi army showed shocking weakness in this first serious encounter since the US withdrawal from Iraq. Mosul is closer to the Iranian border than it is to Baghdad, which has been victimized by jihadist terrorism and might be within ISIS's sights.
In an interview with Al-Monitor, a senior Iranian National and Regional Security Affairs official who requested anonymity said, “Some countries are trying to take revenge in Iraq for their defeat in Syria.” He accused countries who fueled the war in Syria of being behind the latest developments in Iraq, if indirectly.
“The fire will burn those that are backing ISIS. The United States and Saudi Arabia will feel the heat soon. They adopt double standards on one side, they place ISIS on their terror lists, and on another they give weapons to the Syrian opposition,” he said. “The Saudi government has to take a clear position on this. There should be a regional and international effort to fight terrorism. If we agreed that terrorism is becoming a common danger, then we can save the region.”
“Iran is ready to help, if the Iraqis ask,” said the official. “Iraq is an independent state. They have a government, parliament and an army. We respect Iraqi sovereignty, and we believe that the Iraqis as a government, people and tribes don’t need help from others. We will deal with Iraq like Syria. We can give advice to our Iraqi neighbors. Any further help should be requested officially.”
When asked if Iran would intervene militarily if necessary, the official explained that the situation in Syria is a good example of true friends always being ready to help each other when needed. “In Syria, they [the opposition] failed because of the Syrian government’s determination and because of Damascus’ allies’ genuine help. In Iraq, the same will happen. As Syria emerged victorious, Iraq will [do the same], and the conspiracy will fail. We are quite sure. … We think this is a serious challenge, but it’s also an opportunity to bring together regional powers in a unified battle against evil.”
What seems clear is that Iran wants to invest in the Iraqi crisis to help end the Syrian war. It hopes to do so by bringing together states fighting each other via proxy in Syria in a unified front in Iraq, given the international consensus on backing the Iraqi fight against ISIS.
“There are attempts to raise sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites. We look for better relations with Sunnis, and we want to build the pillars for a better approach,” said the official. He warned, “There are going to be attempts to portray ISIS’s war on the people of Iraq as a revolution. This is not the case. Iraq is a democracy, and the whole world knows that what’s happening is an alliance between the extremists and the remnants of [former President] Saddam [Hussein]’s regime. Therefore it’s important to highlight this before people get tricked by slogans that some media outlets might start to highlight for sectarian purposes.”
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani commented on June 12 on the latest crisis in Iraq, making it clear that Iran will intervene at the appropriate time to combat terror. According to a transcript of the speech released by the Islamic Republic News Agency, he said, "The Islamic Republic of Iran will not tolerate this violence and we will not tolerate this terror and as we stated at the UN, we will fight and combat violence, extremism and terrorism in the region and the world."
Also on June 12, Iraq's parliament failed to vote on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's call for a national state of emergency because it lacked the quorum required to pass a political motion. Sunni and Kurdish parliamentarians boycotted the session in what was seen by many as a blow to Maliki, who is looking to a third term in power after his party won a third of the parliamentary seats in the last election.
Maliki said on June 11 that the Iraqi government will provide weapons and equipment to citizens who volunteer to fight the militants, a statement interpreted as a sign that he will approve accepting assistance from anti-ISIS militias, mainly Iranian-backed Shiite groups.
Some of these organizations are accused of participating alongside the Syrian regime in the war against the opposition there. If the situation in Iraq becomes similar to that in Syria, a new bloody sectarian war might be at its door.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect a more accurate translation of Iranian President's Rouhani's statements.