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Iran fueling sectarianism, luring people towards ISIS

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Defeating ISIS is contingent on bringing an end to the civil war in Syria and reaching peace in Iraq. The main obstacle before reaching these two very difficult goals is the regime ruling Iran and its policy of stirring sectarianism across the Middle East. However, can Iran truly be part of the solution in the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria as some are actually suggesting? Considering the fact that Tehran is through its meddling paving the grounds in the region for the rise of ISIS, more and more analysts and extremism experts are saying no.

This is Iran that has dispatched thousands of its forces and affiliated militias to Iraq and Syria, and Tehran itself is the main reason why ISIS enjoys the support witnessed today. Iran-backed militias are conducting the most atrocious crimes against the Sunni community in both countries, acting as the main reason behind the radicalization of Sunnis, and most are ending up in the ISIS camp. Thousands are registering with this fanatical group, seeking to avenge the blood of their friends and relatives killed by the Iran-backed Shiite militias. The situation on the ground has become so dire that Iranian special forces are actually in command of the war against Syrian opposition fighters and involved in the massacre of civilians in various parts of Syria.

If Syrian Sunnis were able to choose between two options of living under ISIS or under the rule of Iranian forces and their local militias, the horrific truth is that they would choose ISIS. Iran goes to no length at all to cover up its meddling and carnages in neighboring Iraq or Syria. At least in areas adjacent to the Syrian city of Aleppo – or what is left of it – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, led by General Qassem Suleimani, is in command of all the units fighting for the Assad regime. Only a few hours prior to the terror attacks in Paris, Suleimani was celebrating with his forces in a city near Aleppo which they had recently managed to take over.

Suleimani stirred a grave amount of concerns as reports circled in September about his Moscow visit and meeting with senior Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin. Images posted on social media also show Suleimani in Syria surrounded by a large number of Shiite militias belonging to a radical group called Katayeb Hezbollah, blacklisted by the U.S. back in 2009 as a terrorist force. The Pentagon says members of this group, enjoying financial, training and logistical support from Iran, have a dark history of killing American soldiers in Iraq.

Images provided by the West-backed Free Syrian Army show the weapons used by these Shiite groups in Syria come from Iran. To make things worse these terror groups backed by Iran have been seen using hallmark American weapons in their so-called fight against ISIS. Experts say even in Iraq these Iranian and Iraqi extremists are in control. Images of the Katayeb Hezbollah extremists reveal their members on an American M1 Abrams tank. They have received these weapons from the Iraqi army that is known to be under the heavy influence of Iran.

Therefore, in Iraq it is sectarian extremists that are said to be fighting ISIS, with the same motives that prompted the U.S. to register them as terror groups for years now. This makes estimates of nearly 200,000 Sunnis in Iraq and Syria volunteering to fight alongside ISIS more understandable.

The result is obvious. To bring an end to the nightmare of ISIS major steps are initially needed to terminate the sectarianism engulfing the Middle East at the hands of Iran. The influence Tehran has gained in Iraq and Syria must be confronted with a strong will by the international community. One leading example is the Saudi-led Arab coalition that is bringing the Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen to their knees. However, in Iraq and Syria the international coalition is trekking in the exact opposite path. Allowing Russia, Iran and Assad to enjoy any role in the fight against ISIS will further lure Sunnis in the disputed regions towards this terrifying fanatical death group.

The international community, and the West in particular, must regain the trust of the Sunnis in Iraq and Syria by tackling Tehran’s meddling in the Middle East with major actions. As long as Iran is brewing the sectarian war in the region, more lives will be lost, millions will continue to seek refuge abroad and the Middle East will become a failing abyss for Iran’s terrorists to roam.

 Follow Keyvan Salami at @salamikeyvan

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