One of the original tires on the axis of evil is apparently being swapped out for a more aggressive tread: Iran, that longtime Islamic bogeyman used in bedtime stories to scare Republican children straight, is now bombing the far-more-terrifying Islamic State in an apparent convergence of interests with the U.S.
TEHRAN — Iranian fighter jets conducted bombing raids against Sunni extremists in Iraq last week, hitting targets near a 25-mile buffer zone that Iran has declared along its border, an Iranian politician, American officials and independent analysts have confirmed.
The bombing raids, along with Iran's support for Shiite and Kurdish militia forces on the ground, illustrate the increasingly open role Iran is playing in Iraq, officials say. But they do not mean Iran is interested in cooperating directly with the United States, they say, even though they are fighting the same enemy and have some of the same allies.
Iranian and U.S. officials should be taken at face value when they say there's no larger detente at play here—yet. Iran, which as a Muslim theocracy never gets enough credit from Western observers for being a realist great power, is framing its action as a geopolitical matter—it's about that 25-mile buffer and also the protection of Karbala and Najaf, Shiite shrine cities in Iraq that are holy to most Iranians.
Nor would the U.S. and Iran cooperate their attacks on ISIS directly; rather, as the Times reports, any coordination is probably run through the Iraqi government, which maintains friendly relations with both nations and is sufficiently incompetent to make this scenario slightly frightening in its own right.
Still, notwithstanding the usual chatter from a wood-paneled den of reconstituted Beltway neocon chickenhawks, there's a lot to be gained for the U.S. from limited security cooperation with Iran in the face of a common enemy. Like American politicians of the left and right alike, Iran's leadership sees the brutes of the Islamic State as an existential threat. ISIS is just as eager to massacre Shiite Muslims as it is to slaughter Americans; moreso, in fact, since there are more Shiites than Americans in ISIS's immediate neighborhood.
That said, neither should U.S. fans of diplomatic dialogue push too quickly for too much engagement with Iran, which in addition to that whole nuclear-program thing is still a police state that jails American-connected journalists for no good reason. We may never be perfect friends, America and Iran, but we can still bond in the age-old way of killing the shit out of the same hated enemies together.
[Photo credit: AP Images]