Story by Nareg Balian '18
Iran and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are bitter enemies. Since ISIS’ aggressive expansion in 2014, Iran, a country that follows predominantly Shi’a Islam, has been “concerned about the rise of Sunni extremism in the entire region.” (The National Interest) Similarly, the United States has made it clear that ISIS is an enemy. President Obama in an address to the nation stated, “the threat from terrorism is real, [and the United States will] destroy ISIL [ISIS] and any other [terrorist] organization.” (CNN) Therefore, for the purposes of defeating ISIS, the United States and Iran are on the same side. However, due to tensions between both the United States and Iran, the countries are “unable to work together.”(New York Times) Even the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, believes “trusting the U.S. would be ‘a big mistake.’” (CBSNews)
While “Shia Iran is…most clearly interested in opposing Sunni ISIS,” (Newsweek) the United States does not particularly care whether ISIS follows the Sunni or Shia denomination. There still is, however, a chance for a mutually beneficial coalition against ISIS. So, how can the US find a solution to eliminate ISIS with the cooperation of Iran? Or even: does the risk from ISIS justify the US establishing an unpopular coalition with Iran at all?
The problem is that Iran’s primary interest “is to destroy ISIS while preserving the territorial integrity and national unity of Iraq.”(Chatham House) Fearing a “shift [in] power dynamics in the region … [that would] threaten regional stability,” Iran would inevitably resist any US backing of Sunni Kurdistan, viewed by the US as a potential ally, fearing that the Kurdish independent country would “be likely to align itself with Saudi Arabia.” (Chatham House) If, however, the United States were to cooperate with Iran, the US would receive a military advantage as well as an improvement in intelligence in the region. Unfortunately, coordination with the Iranian government, as well as the tense political relationship between the two nations would dramatically impede the efforts of a mutually beneficial cooperation. In addition, Iran’s funding of Shiite militias that “are carrying out kidnappings and murders and restricting the movement of Sunni Arab civilians” inevitably hurts any potential US relationship with Iran. (New York Times)
Therefore, cooperation between Iran and the United States does not seem feasible. The US populace has an exceedingly low opinion of Iran’s current government, and would not support establishing a working relationship--even in a limited capacity and with a limited aim, such as the destruction of ISIS. On the other hand, Iran’s theocratic government views the US government as an enemy of Islam, its government, and its entire way of life. (USA Today) The two views are not only incompatible but also likely insurmountable in the near future.