The Enemy of My Enemy: U.S. and Iran Working Together on Iraqi Battlefield

Kurdish pesh merga fighters fire toward positions held by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria during heavy clashes in Tuz Khurmatu, in northern Iraq, on Sunday. (Credit: JM Lopez/European Pressphoto Agency)
Kurdish pesh merga fighters fire toward positions held by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria during heavy clashes in Tuz Khurmatu, in northern Iraq, on Sunday. (Credit: JM Lopez/European Pressphoto Agency)

With American bombs raining down from the sky, Shiite militia fighters aligned with Iran battled Sunni extremists over the weekend, punching through their defenses to break the weekslong siege of Amerli, a cluster of farming villages whose Shiite residents faced possible slaughter.

The fight in northern Iraq appeared to be the first time American warplanes and militias backed by Iran had worked with a common purpose on a battlefield against militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, even though the Obama administration said there was no direct coordination with the militias.

Should such military actions continue, they could signal a dramatic shift for the United States and Iran, which have long vied for control in Iraq. They could also align the interests of the Americans with their longtime sworn enemies in the Shiite militias, whose fighters killed many United States soldiers during the long occupation of Iraq.

The latest expansion of American military operations reflects how seriously Iraq has deteriorated since the withdrawal of American forces in 2011. But any decision to support the Shiite militias, who have proven more adept than the American-trained Iraqi Army, would come with its own set of challenges.

The militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria were able to storm into Iraq in recent months in part because Sunnis felt so disenfranchised by the Shiite-led government of former Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. If the United States is seen to be strengthening the hand of militias that terrorized Sunnis during the sectarian war of 2006 and 2007, the minority Sunnis might balk at participating in America’s long-term goal of a unity government.

Or, in a worst-case scenario, more Sunnis could align with ISIS fighters.

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SOURCE: TIM ARANGO and AZAM AHMED
The New York Times