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Hudson Institute scholar Michael Doran’s February 2, 2015 essay “Obama’s Secret Iran Strategy1 demonstrates that a very flawed U.S. policy towards Iran actually helped breed Sunni backing for the radical Islamic State 2. Due to what former Senior Director at the National Security Council Elliott Abrams terms Obama’s “ideology3 the administration not only failed to comprehend 4 Iranian culture 5 and the absolutist theological nature of the Islamic Republic of Iran—a blunder already begun in the Carter White House and perpetuated through all subsequent administrations—but also compounded the error by believing that the mullah regime could be enticed to moderate its behavior 6.

A year after the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action 7 we find Majlis Speaker of Parliament hard-liner Ali Larijani 8 threatening that Iran may violate the JCPOA with a new startup of nuclear enrichment 9 if any new sanctions are employed against Iran for its alleged nuclear activities, or those which UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon criticized in his report 10 concerning ballistic missile 11 tests. So too, the BfV 12, Germany’s domestic security apparatus, indicates that Iran has attempted to buy illegal nuclear technology 13 since last year’s deal. Additionally, a recent report 14 indicates that Iran has stepped-up its cyberwar capabilities against the West. Thus, it’s clear that the White House’s supposition that Iran would begin to change its behavior 15 has proven erroneous 16. In reality, Iran’s leader 17, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has not changed 18 his opposition to the United States 19 one iota 20. Indeed, the monies Iran has reaped from the deal have not been funneled to improve the Iranian economy but instead have found their way to increased Iranian support 21 for the Syrian regime 22 of President Bashar el-Assad and its various  terrorist proxies 23—particularly  Hezbollah 24—in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain,25 and Gaza.

Having pulled all US troops out of Iraq without stabilizing the situation 26 between the warring Sunni and Shia populations, the administration not only allowed Iran to continue to support and fund the most radical Shia factions 27 and their militias 28 but also gave the radical Dawa party’s29 Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki 30 the chance to suppress the Sunni minority. The result of allowing al-Maliki 31 to continue his sectarian oppression of the Sunnis 32 was to cause a large portion of Sunnis to become radicalized 33 and support the formation of the Islamic State 34, particularly among former Baathist army officers and officials. As Iran’s radical Shia agenda 35 became more prevalent in Iraq, leading both the Tehran-led Badr Organization 36 militia and other Shia militias 37 such as Asaib Ahl al Haq, or “League of the Righteous” to attack and assassinate Sunnis, particularly those that had any ties to the Saddam regime, the Sunnis reacted 38, and thus ISIS 39/the Islamic State found a steady supply of local recruits.

For the United States to win the war against the Islamic State, it is necessary not only to destroy it physically, but also to reverse the conditions that made it popular with a good portion of the Sunni masses. Unfortunately, the U.S. is relying 40 on Iraq’s Shia Popular Mobilization Units 41 (PMUs) which too often  commit atrocities 42 against the fragmented Sunni minority.43
As long as the current policy 44 of relying on the Shia PMUs in its fight with Islamic State, the U.S. will fail to tame Iraq and arrest the sectarian wars. The PMUs are—in essence 45Iranian proxies 46 as their battlefield leadership is poignantly demonstrated by the presence of Major General Qassem Soleimani,47 commander of the Qods Force 48 of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC/Pasdaran),49 in Iraq at Takrit 50 and Fallujah 51 during the battles there. Soleimani not only advises but actually directs the battles and is aided by his own Qods Force troops 52 as well as Shiite Fatemiyoun 53 recruits from Afghanistan and Pakistan 54 that have been employed to bolster Hezbollah 55 in Syria.

Accountability and strict discipline 56 need to be enforced in American relations with Iraq. “Leading from behind” will not do in any manner whatsoever—that’s an open invitation to the Islamic State to morph into another terrorist entity. Boots on the ground and officials in Baghdad to enforce strict compliance with a non-sectarian agenda 57 will be required. With careful instruction and guidance we succeeded in the “Tribal Awakening58 of 2006-2007 and the “Surge59 of 2007-2008; future success requires similar diligence on our part along with that of the Government of Iraq. But this time we need to stay the course and not retreat from the arena until Iraq is at peace with itself. Given the right support the GOI will opt for a successful harmonious 60 state. But with the long history of mutual Sunni-Shia animosity and the ferocity of both sides in attacking the other, it will not be simple or quickly achieved. However, if we withhold our support and supervision, Iraq will not achieve peace and will continue to be a weak client of Iran whose malevolent agenda 61 is all too well known from the past thirteen years of experience.
Across the border in Syria, the situation is somewhat more complicated. The “moderate” opposition 62—thought by the U.S. to be concentrated in the Syrian Free Army (SFA) has recently allied itself with jihadist militias 63 fighting the Assad regime, especially in the current battle 64 over Aleppo.65 Although the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, led by Abu Mohammed al-Golani,66 has split recently from al-Qaeda in order to form Jabhat Fatah el al-Sham 67 as an umbrella organization 68 of all non-Islamic State Sunni opposition to the Assad regime, the jihadi agenda 69 it espouses has not changed 70 at all. Like Islamic State, Jabhat Fatah el al-Sham seeks to remove the Assad regime and replace it with a Sunni Islamic state.

The only Syrian group working actively against Islamic State in Syria is the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces which recently took the city 71 of Manbij from IS after a two-month siege.72 This Kurdish dominated coalition is made up of the Syrian YPG 73 and a variety of Arab minorities.74

Success 75 against the Islamic State both in Iraq and in Syria is hampered by our reliance on Iran’s Shiite axis in Iraq while attempting to remove Iran’s client in Syria. Our “friends”76 in these complicated fights do not share our values nor do they have similar goals and objectives for final outcomes. Until we realize that every coalition action that we take has multiple repercussions because of our “allies”77 all-too-frequent misdeeds,78 we will continue to fail to bring any sense of calm to the area. As mentioned above, “leading from behind”79 is a guarantee of failure. Success will require tremendous effort, diligence and hands-on supervision in order to prevent sectarian violence against civilians, minorities, and the less devout. And this problem will not be solved quickly no matter how much we wish it. But ignoring it 80 will only allow it to fester and grow much more dangerous 81 and lethal.

Rabbi Dr. Daniel M. Zucker, author of over one hundred articles on the Middle-East, is founder and Chairman of the Board of Americans for Democracy in the Middle-East, an organization dedicated to teaching the public about the dangers posed by radical Islamic fundamentalism. He may be contacted at [email protected] and/or [email protected].
1. Michael Doran, “Obama’s Secret Iran Strategy”, Mosaic Magazine, February 2, 2015, .
2. Anonymous, “Analyzing the ISIS Timeline: The Rise of the Islamic State (ISIL / ISIS)”, Ntrepid Timestream, 2015, .
3. Elliot Abrams, “What the President Thinks He’s Doing”, Mosaic Magazine, February 9, 2015, .
4. Daniel M. Zucker, “The Fallacies Undergirding the Current U.S. Policy towards Iran”, American Thinker, June 24, 2016, .
5. Harold Rhode, “The Sources of Iranian Negotiating Behavior”, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Strategic Perspectives, Number 6, 2010, .
6. Barney Breen-Portnoy, “Former Pentagon Analyst: As in Past, Iran Seeking to Humiliate US With Accusations of Nuclear-Deal Violations (INTERVIEW)”, The Algemeiner, August 22, 2016, .
7. Anonymous, “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action”,, Vienna, July 14, 2015, .
8. Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran Lawmakers Re-elect Their Conservative Speaker, Ali Larijani”, The New York Times, May 31, 2016, .
9. Anonymous, “Larijani urges AEOI to devise plan to set up nuclear enrichment plant”, Iran Republic News Agency, July 20, 2016, .
10. Ben Ariel, “Iran blasts UN chief’s criticism of its ballistic missiles”, Arutz Sheva, July 9, 2016, .
11, Uzi Rubin, “The Nuclear Agreement Boosts Iran’s Missile Threat”, Defense News, October 15, 2015, .
12. Thomas de Maizière, et. al., «Verfassungsschutzbericht 2015 », Bundesministerium des Innern, July 2016, .
13. Jack Moore, “German Intelligence: Iran Has Attempted to Buy Illegal Nuclear Technology After 2015 Deal”, Newsweek, July 8, 2016, .
14. Michael Eisenstadt, “Iran’s Lengthening Cyber Shadow”, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, No. 34, July 2016, .
15. Y. Carmon and A. Savyon, “Senior Iranian Officials: The U.S. Has Met Its Obligations Under The JCPOA; The Initial Sanctions Remain In Force Because Iran Rejected Negotiations On Human Rights Violations, Terrorism”, MEMRI, Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No.1264, August 15, 2016, .
16. Bob Blackman, MP, “It does no good to expect the best from Iran”, The Hill: Congress Blog, July 31, 2016, .
17. Arash Karami, “Rouhani echoes Khamenei’s mistrust of US as nuke deal grumbles persist”, Al-Monitor, August 3, 2016, .
18. Special Dispatch No.6563, “One Year After JCPOA: Iran-U.S. Relations According To Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei”, MEMRI, August 9, 2016, .
19. IFP Coverage, “US Unreliability Proved by JCPOA Experience: Leader”, Iran Front Page, August 1, 2016, .
20. Jay Solomon, “Why the Ayatollah Thinks He Won”, The Wall Street Journal, August 19, 2016, .
21. Emanuele Ottolenghi and Annie Fixler, “One year on, the Iran deal is still bad”, Jewish Journal, July 26, 2016, .
22. AIPAC Memo, “State Department: Iran Remains the ‘Foremost State Sponsor of Terrorism’”, The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), June 9, 2016, .
23. Avi Issacharoff, “Boosted by nuke deal, Iran ups funding to Hezbollah, Hamas”, The Times of Israel, September 21, 2015, .
24. Anonymous, “Weapons, drugs, and global terror: Hezbollah as an international threat”, Israel Defense Forces, July 12, 2016,
25. Matthew Levitt, “Hezbollah’s Pivot Toward the Gulf”, CTC Sentinel, August 22, 2016,, and The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, August 22, 2016, .
26. Frank R. Gunter, “Once Fooled in Iraq”, U.S. News and World Report, July 27, 2016, .
27. Anonymous, “Dawa Party: An American-Iranian failure”, Middle East Monitor, March 22, 2016, .
28. Muhannad Al-Ghazi, “No end to the militias in Iraq”, Al-Monitor, August 7, 2016, .
29. Ali Mamouri, “Is Iraq’s Dawa Party on verge of division?”, Al-Monitor, October 28, 2015, .
30. Ned Parker and Raheem Salman, “Notes From The Underground: The Rise of Nouri al-Maliki”, World Policy Journal, Spring 2013, .
31. Editors, “Nouri al-Maliki Biography”, The website, publication date: n/a, access date: August 13, 2016, .
32. Oudai Hatem, “Iraqi Sahwa Movement Leader Slams Maliki as Sectarian”, Al-Monitor, February 23, 2013, .
33. Brian Stewart, “ISIS – the terrible twos”, The Jerusalem Post, July 31, 2016, .
34. Ilana Freedman, JIHAD! Understanding the Threat of the Islamic State to America, The Center for Security Policy, Washington, DC, c. 2016, .
35. Ali Khedery, “Iran’s Shiite Militias Are Running Amok in Iraq”, FP, February 19 2015, .
36. Anonymous, “Badr Organization”, Wikipedia, accessed: July 27, 2016, .
37. David Zucchino, “In Iraq, Shiite militias are both friend and foe”, Los Angeles Times, October 30, 2014, .
38. Hassan Abu Haniyeh, “Debate: ISIS has succeeded thanks to the sectarian policies of its opponents”, Asharq al-Awsat, July 7, 2014, .
39. Suhaib Anjarini, “The Evolution of ISIS”, Al-Monitor, November 1, 2013, .
40. Ali Mamouri, “Has the U.S. Found a New Friend in Iraq’s Shiite Militias?”, U.S. News and World Report, March 31, 2016, .
41. Ali Mamouri, “Concern in Iraq grows over unregulated Shiite forces”, Al-Monitor, February 17, 2015, .
42. Anhvinh Doanvo, “Murder and Militias—Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite Plan After ISIS”, The World Post, July 20, 2016, .
43. Omar Al-Nidawi, “The State of Sunni Discord in Iraq”, Fikra Forum, August 11, 2016, .
44. Brian Stewart, “Iraq’s Downward Spiral: A Boon to ISIS”, Counter Extremism Project, May 20, 2016,
45. Dalshad Abdullah, “Iranian Revolutionary Guards Inaugurate Center for Recruiting Youth in Kirkuk”, Asharq al-Awsat, February 16, 2016, .
46. Jonathan Spyer & Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, “How Iraq Became a Proxy of the Islamic Republic of Iran”, The Tower Magazine, Issue 21, December 2014, .
47. Anonymous, “Who is Major General Qasim Soleimani?”, Near East Center for Strategic Engagement, June 4, 2016,
48. Anonymous, “Qods Force / Sepah-e Qods / Qods Corps / Jerusalem Corps”, Global, accessed: August 12, 2016, .
49. Anonymous, “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)”, Counter Extremism Project, accessed: August 5, 2016,
50. James Rosen, “Quds force leader, commanding Iraqi forces against ISIS, alarms Washington”, Fox News, March 5, 2015,
51. Bill Roggio & Amir Toumaj, “Qods Force general vows to fight in Iraq and Syria until the last jihadist is killed”, The Long War Journal, June 17, 2016, .
52. Loveday Morris, “Photo: Were Iranian soldiers fighting in Tikrit?”, The Washington Post, April 2, 2015, .
53. Farzin Nadimi, “Iran’s Afghan and Pakistani Proxies: In Syria and Beyond?”, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policy-watch 2677, August 22, 2016, .
54. Ari Heistein, James West, “Syria’s Other Foreign Fighters: Iran’s Afghan and Pakistani Mercenaries”, The National Interest, November 20, 2015, .
55. Clare Lopez, “Freed-Up Frozen Funds, Sanctions Relief and Ransoms Only Aid Iran’s Global Crime Syndicate”, CNS News, August 10, 2016, .
56. Mara Revkin, “Law and Lawfare in the Islamic State”, Lawfare, August 5, 2016, . See especially section “Conclusion”.
57. Craig Whiteside, “The Moral Hazard of the Fight Against the Islamic State in Iraq”, War on the Rocks, February 16, 2016, .
58. Anonymous, “The Sahwa / Awakening Councils / Sons of Iraq [SOI] Hashid Watani (national mobilization)”, Global, accessed: August 5, 2016, .
59. David Petraeus, “How we won in Iraq”, FP, October 29, 2013, .
60. Ghassan Atiyyah, “A Call for Peaceful and Constitutional Reform in Iraq”, Fikra Forum, August 11, 2016, .
61. Anonymous, “US Military Strength: Assessment—Threats—Middle East”, The Heritage Foundation, c. 2016, . See especially material on Hezbollah and Iran.
62. Jonathan Spyer, “Who should rule Syria? Nobody”, The Spectator, August 20, 2016, .
63. Thomas Joscelyn, “Jihadists and other rebels attack Syrian regime positions in Latakia province”, The Long War Journal, June 28, 2016, .
64. Amir Toumaj, “Iranian media report deployment of elite Iraqi, Lebanese combatants to Aleppo”, Threat Matrix/The Long War Journal, August 9, 2016, .
65. Borzou Daragahi, “This Is Why The Syrian Rebels’ Takeover Of Aleppo Matters So Much”, Buzz Feed News, August 12, 2016, .
66. Sardar Mlla Drwish, “Who is Golani, Nusra’s No. 1 man?”, Al-Monitor, August 8, 2016, .
67. Mona Alami, “Jabhat al-Nusra’s rebranding is more than simple name change”, Al-Monitor, August 5, 2016, .
68. Alex Crawford, “Rebranded Nusra Front Uniting Syria’s Rebels”, Sky News, August 18, 2016, .
69. Mordechai Kedar, “Why Jabhat al Nusra has divorced from al Qaeda”, Arutz Sheva, August 5, 2016,
70. Yoram Schweitzer, “From Jabhat al-Nusra to Jabhat Fateh a-Sham: Can a Leopard Change its Spots?”, The Institute for National Strategic Studies, INSS Insight No. 843, August 7, 2016, .
71. Rouba El Husseini, “Rebels turn tables on regime as IS loses Syria bastion”, The Times of Israel, August 6, 2016, .
72.  Rick Noack, “Syrians lift veils and cut beards after being liberated from Islamic State rule”, The Washington Post, August 13, 2016, .
73. Anonymous, “YPG: People’s Protection Units”, The Kurdish Project, accessed: August 9, 2016, .
74. Anonymous, “Syrian Democratic Forces”,, accessed: August 9, 2016, .
75. Jonathan Spyer, “War of attrition: The Syrian rebellion grinds on into its 6th year, with no end in sight”, The Jerusalem Post, August 13, 2016, .
76. Zvi Bar’el, “Spilling Blood in War on ISIS, Kurds Pay Heavy Price for U.S.-Turkey Ties”, Haaretz, August 25, 2015 , or first two articles at .
77. Phillip Smyth, “Should Iraq’s ISCI Forces Really Be Considered ‘Good Militias’?”, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policy-watch 2674, August 17, 2016, .
78. Ned Parker and Jonathan Landay, “Special Report: Massacre reports show U.S. inability to curb Iraq militias”, Reuters, August 23, 2016, .
79. Bret Stephens, “The New Dictators’ Club”, The Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2016, .
80. Jeff Gerth/ProPublica and Joby Warrick, “Promises unfulfilled: How a State Department plan to stabilize Iraq broke apart”, The Washington Post, August 15, 2016, .
81. Haitham Numan, “The Next Iraq”, Fikra Forum, August 10, 2016, .


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