As Washington continues to weigh its response to the unfolding
insurgent advance in Iraq, the emerging possibility of greater U.S. cooperation with Tehran is adding to the political quandary faced by the Obama administration. On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry denied having suggested that the U.S. was considering working in coordination with Iran to push back against Islamist militants, insisting that Washington was only interested in communicating with Tehran over the crisis.
“What I said is we are interested in communicating with Iran to make clear that the Iranians know what we’re thinking and we know what they’re thinking and there’s a sharing of information so people aren’t making mistakes,” Kerry told NBC News in an interview. The comments come shortly after the secretary of state appeared to suggest the possibility of cooperation with the Islamic republic in an interview on Monday. As gaffe-prone as Kerry may be, his apparent about-face on the issue is less of a reflection of his tendency to verbally misfire than it is of the administration’s increasingly uncomfortable position with regards to Iranian cooperation on Iraq.
VISUAL CONTEXT: The ISIL onslaught
It is clear that the interests of both governments align on this matter. As forces loyal to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have floundered in the face of the onslaught by the al-Qaeda offshoot ISIL, the fear that his government could collapse entirely is shared by both Washington and Tehran. Iranian officials have already dropped hints that they would be willing to team up with Washington in order to head off the rebel advance. With President Obama continuing to display his reluctance to put American boots on the ground, the reported deployment of Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces might theoretically make a limited form of cooperation here somewhat more agreeable.
However, even in the face of advancing ISIL militants, there is no denying that any overt cooperation with Iran would be a politically loaded prospect. Israel has made its fears over U.S.-Iranian security cooperation well known, pointing to the possibility that it may prompt political concessions to the Islamic republic by the U.S. One senior Israeli official warned that “if Washington needs Tehran’s help to solve the Iraq crisis, the United States will need to be more flexible in negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme.” On top of this, the Obama administration is already facing criticism at home over its handling of the unfolding crisis.
On Thursday, the U.S. president announced his plans to send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq — none of whom are combat troops — to help retrain Iraqi security forces. The move is a reflection of the administration’s continued hesitance to recommit to a military entanglement in the embattled country. This, along with its fear of pooling efforts with Iran should show that, for now, the U.S. is hoping to take the path of least resistance on the Iraq crisis.