Putting aside the debate over whether Iran, under the nuclear deal with the U.S., will have the ability to create 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. The deal calls for previously imposed sanctions on Iran to be lifted; Iran can resume selling oil on the international market; $150 billion dollars in frozen assets will be released; and there will be no further restrictions on Iran purchasing arms. And if that weren't enough, the deal removes Qassim Soleimani, commander of the Quds Forces and a key figure in the anti-US campaign in Iraq, from the sanctions list.
Nevertheless, Iran's meddling in the Mideast, specifically in Iraq is hardly a new concept. Iran has long been an expert in fighting its wars on other people's land. During the fall of Iraq's Baath regime in 2003, Iran saw the U.S. liberation of Iraq as a direct threat to the legitimacy of its own totalitarian regime. This prompted Iran to utilize its existing theocratic Shia extensions in Iraq to undermine the liberation of Iraq and portray it as a catastrophic failure.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011 allowed for increased Iranian influence in Iraq's political arena and thus subjugation of the Sunni populace. The Islamic State, better 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 under way, Iran was able to portray itself as the savior of Iraq, resolving the consequences of a problem they actually perpetrated themselves. Furthermore, Iraq's refusal to arm anti-ISIS Sunni units, such as the Sunni Awakening, further substantiated Iranian involvement and thus the Sunni claim of abandonment.
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As Shiite militias, led by Soleimani, continue to increase their presence in Iraq, we can expect more conflict to spread throughout the Middle East as they add exacerbating sectarian tensions and provoke involvement from other Sunni-dominant nations and groups.
What is most puzzling is the fact that the U.S. is still searching for a solution to handle ISIS and the sectarian conflict when we have a proven success story staring us right in the face – the Kurds. Despite Baghdad's failure to pay the constitutionally recognized budget of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the fact that Baghdad has not upheld its agreement with the U.S. military to deliver U.S. weapons to the Kurdish armed forces, the Peshmerga, the Kurds remain the only success story in the region. The Kurds have been a consistent ally of the United States and have led the fight against ISIS using inferior Soviet-era weaponry against the U.S. weapons left in the hands of ISIS 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, President Barzani's party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), has steadfastly refused to allow Iran to overland ship arms and supplies to the Assad regime in Syria. This has provoked Iran to sophisticate its 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 President Barzani during an all-consuming humanitarian and geopolitical crisis in which the KRG is providing safe shelter for over 2 million Internally Displaced Peoples and refugees. Because of President Barzani's pro-West policies, Iran does not wish to see his term extended, especially with all Iran stands to gain from the instability the absence of his leadership will cause on both a regional and national level. President 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.
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While the extension of President Barzani's term should be left to the people to decide, as Barzani 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, to demand an electoral process that would strip the people of their democratic right to elect a president and give this power to the Parliament, which can be more easily influenced by Iran.
A failed Kurdistan would lead to a total collapse of Iraq, making Iran appear as the only viable U.S. ally and the only candidate equipped to piece Iraq back together. The reality is Iran has proven itself time and time again to be the instigator of violence in the Middle East. The story of Iraq and the Kurds is just one example of how Iran has manipulated other countries into pushing its own agenda.
An emboldened Iran, aligned with the U.S. through its nuclear deal and playing a new role as the rebuilder of the Middle East, would instigate the surrounding Sunni countries into a full-blown sectarian war with a more powerful Iran and quite possibly, a nuclear Iran. A virus once contained in a small, regional box will become a global epidemic.