- - Sunday, September 20, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Putting aside the debate over whether the Iran nuclear deal means nuclear weapons in the near future, let’s for a moment discuss the irrefutable risk this deal imposes right now: It funds further Iranian aggression in the Middle East.

If the deal is approved, sanctions on Iran will be lifted. Iran can resume selling oil on the international market, $150 billion in frozen assets will be released and there will be no further restrictions on Iran’s purchase of arms. If that wasn’t enough, the deal removes Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force and a key figure in the anti-U.S. campaign in Iraq, from the sanctions list.

Meddling in Iraq is hardly a new concept for Iran, which has long been an expert in fighting its wars on other people’s land. In 2003, Iran saw the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s Baath regime as a direct threat to the legitimacy of its own totalitarian regime. This prompted Iran to use its theocratic Shiite allies in Iraq to undermine the U.S. liberation of Iraq and turn it into a failure.

The withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011 allowed for increased Iranian influence in Iraqi politics and thus the subjugation of the Sunni populace. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, saw this as an opportunity and an obligation to amplify its presence by highlighting Sunni exclusion within the Iraqi state.

With the visible destabilization of Iraq underway, Iran was able to portray itself as savior, solving the consequences of a problem that it actually perpetrated itself. Furthermore, Baghdad’s refusal to arm anti-ISIS Sunni units further confirmed Iran’s influence and the Sunni claim of abandonment.

As the Soleimani-led Shiite militias continue to increase their presence in Iraq, we can expect more conflict to spread throughout the Middle East as they exacerbate sectarian tensions and provoke involvement from other Sunni-dominant nations and groups.

What is most puzzling is that we are still searching for a solution to handle the Islamic State and the sectarian conflict as a proven success story stares us right in the face, the Kurds.

Baghdad has failed to pay the constitutionally recognized budget of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and to uphold its agreement with the U.S. military to deliver American weapons to the Kurdish armed forces, the peshmerga. Nevertheless, the Kurds remain the only success story in the region. The Kurds have been a consistent ally of the U.S. and have led the fight against ISIS using inferior Soviet-era weaponry against the U.S. weapons that fell into Islamic State hands after the Iraqi military bailed.

President Obama’s White House invitation to KRG President Massoud Barzani was a signal to Iran that the Kurds were finally being recognized and their dream of self-determination may soon become a reality. Additionally, Mr. Barzani’s party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), has steadfastly refused to allow Iran to ship arms and other supplies over land to the Assad regime in Syria. This has provoked Iranian efforts to destabilize the Kurdistan region by meddling in the internal politics of the KRG.

Politically, the KRG is at an impasse on whether to extend the two-term limit of Mr. Barzani during an all-consuming humanitarian and geopolitical crisis in which the KRG is providing safe shelter to more than 2 million displaced people and refugees. Because of Mr. Barzani’s pro-West policies, Iran does not wish to see his term extended, especially with all Iran stands to gain from the instability that the absence of his leadership will cause on both a regional and national level. Mr. Barzani was elected by the people, has the trust of the Kurdish peshmerga and is respected by the international community for his humanitarianism and unwavering diplomacy.

While the issue of whether to extend Mr. Barzani’s term should be left to the people to decide, as he himself declared, Iran has skillfully manipulated the other political parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the Goran (Change) Party and the Kurdistan Islamic Group, Komala, into demanding an electoral process that would strip the people of their democratic right to elect a president and give this power to a parliament that Iran can more easily influence.

A failed Kurdistan would mean the total collapse of Iraq and turn Iran into the only viable U.S. ally and the only country that could piece Iraq back together. An emboldened Iran, aligned with the U.S. through its nuclear deal and new role as the rebuilder of the Middle East, would instigate a full-blown sectarian war between the surrounding Sunni countries and a more powerful, and quite possibly nuclear, Iran.

A virus once contained in a small, regional box will have become a global epidemic.

Armstrong Williams is sole owner/manager of Howard Stirk Holdings and executive editor of American CurrentSee online magazine.

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