On the same day President Obama recognized the country’s first Memorial Day in 14 years without a major ground war, an Iranian general has criticized the U.S.’s approach to combating ISIS in Iraq and Syria. “Today, in the fight against this dangerous phenomenon, nobody is present except Iran,” said Iranian Army Major General Qassem Soleimani, according to Reuters. “Obama has not done a damn thing so far to confront Daesh: doesn’t that show that there is no will in America to confront it?” Soleimani’s remarks follow ISIS’s recent takeover of Ramadi, a major Iraqi city 70 miles west of Baghdad. According to PressTV, an estimated 55,000 civilians have fled Ramadi since ISIS assumed control of the city.
Although the U.S. has not shied away from speaking out against ISIS (or arresting citizens who conspire to join the group), the Obama administration’s policy in the effort has thus far been limited to airstrikes and assistance to the Iraqi army. According to a CBS News poll conducted in February, however, the majority of Americans (57 percent) were in favor of sending ground troops to combat ISIS. Those statistics, as well as the Obama administration’s limited campaign in the region, demonstrate that Americans definitely aren’t lacking the will to confront ISIS as Soleimani suggests.
Still, Iran’s campaign against the militant group has offered the country the opportunity to demonstrate its authority in the region. Especially during this time of increased tension as Iran and the U.S. work towards a nuclear deal, Iran can use its offensive against ISIS as a way to establish political power. Soleimani’s quotes weren’t necessarily asking the U.S. for more help, they just stated that Iran was doing all the work.
Iran leading the charge against ISIS makes sense, as the U.S.’s position in Iraq is a much trickier one. The Bush administration’s offensive in 2003 led to the dismantling of Saddam Hussein’s government, but the justification for going to war in the first place was ultimately proved to be false. The U.S. then became entangled in a war more costly and lengthy than anticipated, but that military campaign was officially ended in 2011. Anyone that’s been following ISIS’s advancements in both Iraq and Syria can easily understand that the U.S.’s involvement in the region is far from over. The U.S. has already demonstrated an interest in stopping ISIS, but the lack of ground troops has Iranian leaders and many around the U.S. feeling as if the country is involved enough.
Iran’s involvement further complicates the issue for the U.S., giving two countries with strained relations a common enemy. Iran has an interest in promoting Shiite influence in the Middle East by fighting against Sunni ISIS militants. The U.S. government fears that Iranian advances could cause sectarian tension amongst Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite groups. Yet both want ISIS destroyed. As The New York Times reports, Iran and the U.S. refuse to coordinate with each other despite a de facto agreement not to fight each other, either.
Soleimani’s accusations demonstrate that Iran is viewing itself as the key military aid for Iraq and Syria in the fight against ISIS. The U.S. has more complicated diplomacy to deal with — they oppose Assad’s government in Syria and want to stabilize the Iraqi government they helped create. Although the U.S. might not be as involved in the campaign as Iran would like, it’s clear that the country is committed to defeating ISIS. Whether or not the U.S. military’s time of relative peace will be short-lived remains to be seen.
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