17.30 hrs Wednesday 1stFebruary 2017
As President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA), I am acutely aware of the dangerous and destructive role of the Iranian regime in Iraq and Syria. It was the mullahs’ support for former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq and for Bashar Assad in Syria, two corrupt dictators who repressed their own people and particularly the Sunni communities in those two countries, that resulted in the rise of Daesh in the region. Because the Sunnis were humiliated and brutally repressed, they were pushed towards being recruited by the Islamic extremists. So thanks to Tehran, ISIS grew and became a threat to the whole world. Now the Iranian regime has exploited the war on Daesh as an opportunity to consolidate its policy of aggressive expansionism in the Middle East.
The nuclear deal we signed with Iran led to the release of $150 billion of frozen assets, providing a windfall for the Tehran government, which was teetering on the brink of economic collapse. But far from investing in its own beleaguered people, the regime used this money to redouble its spending on exporting terror through the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Quds Force, both of which are listed terrorist organizations in the West and are involved in almost every conflict in the Middle East. As well as Bashar al-Assadin Syria and Yemen's Houthi rebels, Iran funds and supplies Hezbollah in Lebanon and the brutal Shi'ia militias in Iraq.
Under the guise of ousting Daesh, the pro-Iranian Shi’ia militias in Iraq are engaged in a genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing aimed at the annihilation of the Sunnis in Iraq's al-Anbar Province. Horrific sectarian atrocities were committed during the so-called "liberation" of the ancient cities of Fallujah and Ramadi and the same thing is now happening in Mosul. The same thing has also happened in Syria, where more than 70,000 Iranian troops are involved in propping up Bashar al-Assad’s bloodstained regime, dragging the civil war into its seventh year, costing hundreds of thousands of lives and the migration crisis in Europe. Indeed Iranian involvement in Syria has become the only obstacle to a ceasefire signed by Turkey, Russia and the Syrian opposition. The Western Coalition does not need the Iranian regime and its brutal affiliated militias to defeat Daesh. Only the expulsion of the IRGC from Syria and Iraq will ever secure peace.
It is a mistake to imagine that only Sunni extremism is a threat. Shi’ia extremism is just as dangerous and brutal. The source of Islamic fundamentalism and the grotesque distortion of Islam for political ends began with Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 when he set up the so-called Islamic Republic of Iran. Therefore to say that one should make an alliance with Iran to fight Daesh is wrong both in theory and in practice. It is like trying to extinguish a fire by pouring petrol on it. Such a move will escalate the sectarian conflicts in Iraq and Syria and make the situation uncontrollable.
The first step to find a solution in Syria, Iraq and other places in the region is to evict and expel the mullahs, the IRGC and their affiliated militias. Indeed the IRGC’s Quds Force commander – General Qasem Soleimani – should be indicted for war crimes he has committed in both Syria and Iraq and held to account in the international courts in The Hague.
Struan Stevenson was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), President of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and Chairman of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is a lecturer on Middle East policy and President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).