IRAN, June 21, 2014– As Iraq stands on the verge of civil war, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani issued a powerful condemnation at a news conference last weekend.
“The fact that terrorist groups in this region are supported by Western countries is as clear as light,” Rouhani said. “There’s no room for doubt about this.”
His remarks follow a surge of extremist violence in Iraq carried out by the terrorist network known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In recent weeks, the group has ravaged the nation in a string of devastating attacks on military personnel and civilians alike.
When 500,000 Iraqis fled Mosul after ISIS seized the city on June 9, one thing became clear: the terrorists have their eyes set on Baghdad. The fallout has compelled the region’s major players to begin developing a counterinsurgency strategy.
Rouhani knows the clock is ticking, and he is not shying away from casting blame on those nations he deems responsible for the crisis.
“Powerful Western countries are supporting terror politically, with propaganda, with finances and weapons,” he declared to the audience.
Who is Rouhani targeting? His response to a question posed by New York Times Tehran bureau chief Thomas Erdbrink may hold the answer.
When asked whether Iran would cooperate with the United States in combating ISIS in Iraq, Rouhani responded that the only forces fighting the spread of terrorism are the Iraqi people and government. If the US were to involve itself against ISIS, he said Iran might consider it.
The prospect of a joint US-Iranian presence is unprecedented and, given the two nations’ tumultuous history, it would be a rare show of common ground. Both have incentives for a stable Iraqi state, with Rouhani seeking to expand Iran’s sphere of Shiite influence and President Obama attempting to live up to his 2011 claim of “leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.” Both presidents have each dispatched hundreds of soldiers to the country.
Rouhani proceeded to elaborate on America’s specific role in the growing regional instability.
“For over a year, this administration has warned the US not to support these terrorists,” he said. He further expressed his concern that America and the West have “acted in favor of terrorists and their allies,” specifically through the supply of weaponry.
The White House authorized the transfer of arms to Syrian rebels in June 2013, and since then, Congress has approved the distribution of weapons to anti-Assad Sunni fighters in the war-ridden country. It may soon see an even greater influx of American weaponry, however, as ISIS militants transfer seized US military equipment to al Qaeda rebels waging the civil war.
After more than a year of tension surrounding foreign intervention in neighboring Syria, the chaos in Iraq represents a pivotal moment for the future of US-Iranian diplomatic relations. Furthermore, with the July 20 nuclear negotiations deadline rapidly approaching, the stakes have never been higher.
*The video subscript translation of Rouhani’s statements has been independently verified by a native Persian speaker for the purposes of this report.