Syrian Refugees (World Bank Photo Collection. 2014. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The European “migrant crisis” was radically affected recently by the sad and telling image of Aylan Kurdi, the three year-old Syrian child who drowned trying to escape the on-going Syrian war.  Until now, the crisis was typically depicted as non-Europeans “burdening” Europe; the sobering photograph of a child’s lifeless body has compelled European leaders to respond.  But no one is trying to solve the conflict. Barack Obama missed a glaring opportunity these past few months by not tying Iran’s unconditional support for Bashar Assad, the embattled Syrian president who has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in his quest to remain in power, to the deal.  The fact is – there is no refugee crisis without the Iranian government’s arming of Assad and the accommodation of President Obama.

I recently had dinner with a colleague who attended a pro-deal rally in Chicago this past month; he was surprised that very few non-Persian Muslims attended.  I informed him that most Muslims I know, including myself, are opposed to any U.S. or Israeli war against Iran, for only Iran’s population will suffer.  But considering Iran’s foreign policy in Iraq and Syria, it is difficult to muster up any enthusiasm for the Iranian regime.

Those who support the deal do so for the right reasons: They are opposed to war and the unwarranted suffering of yet another civilian population in the region.  But those same supporters are totally silent on Iran’s commitment to the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad, its propping up of non-state militias who act just as morbid and brutal as ISIS but happen to be Shi’is and – of course – Iran’s direct involvement in the demographic destruction of Syria.  Aylan Kurdi would still be home today if not for Iran, not to mention 10 million other displaced Syrians.

Reza Aslan, Noam Chomsky, John Esposito, Juan Cole and others publically endorsed the deal by addressing a letter to Congress for its support.  The letter was organized by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).  Trita Parsi, president of the NIAC argued “in addition to advancing non-proliferation goals, this agreement could be the key that unlocks solutions to some of the most intractable conflicts in the Middle East.”  But it is highly improbable that this deal will do that.

Iran in Iraq and Syria 

In 2003, Baghdad’s population was 65% Sunni and 45% Shi’i, today Baghdad is 25% Sunni and 75% Shi’i.  From 2006 to 2009, Iranian backed militias literally cleansed Baghdad of its Sunni population.  Hundreds of Sunni men were found daily, blindfolded and tied, shot execution style.  Even now, the ‘war’ against ISIS is largely a pretext for Iranian militias to cleanse the suburbs of Baghdad of Sunnis as well.  Qasem Suliemani, the architect of Iran’s regional strategy is not constrained by the Iran Deal; he is in fact rewarded by it; along with other top military officers.  Suliemani, singularly responsible for the death of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians, is being relieved of sanction.  No one has addressed how relieving Suliemani – who has been as brutal in Iraq and Syria as the Israelis in the Gaza Strip will pave “the way for an increase in dialogue and diplomacy on a whole set of issues – which is critical for stability in the Middle East.”

Liberals obviously support the deal for partisan reasons, but to also distance themselves from certain war-mongering Republicans.  But more troubling is many public intellectuals and writers unconditionally support the deal as well; Glenn Greenwald, Noam Chomsky and other Leftists pontificate on the imperial nature of American foreign policy, but remain silent on glaring Iranian crimes to only further a view of the world as simple as their rhetorical opponents.  Even Muslim public figures, such as the aforementioned Reza Aslan and Dean Obeidallah have obviously explicitly or implicitly supported the deal, associating anti-deal with Islamophobia and Bush administration-like policies.  They might be right.  But Iran is currently killing far more people in the region than Israel at the moment.  And the Iran Deal – as it stands now – will only make the Iranian government more effective at a policy that will not change soon.  HA Hellyer recently highlighted the hypocrisy of progressives who rightly condemn Israel’s human rights abuses and genocide in the Gaza Strip but support Assad – who does the exact same thing in Syria.

The Context

There are several reasons for this hypocritical gap: First, opponents of the Iran deal are chicken hawks who advance Islamophobic rhetoric.  To oppose the deal opens one up to being thrown into that camp.  Secondly, Iran has constantly invoked the “resistance” card, insisting on its pure commitment to Palestinian justice – but a critical look at Iranian policies demonstrate that Iranian ‘resistance,’ though present, is much more complicated and adulterated than the rhetoric.  You need look no further than Trita Parsi, president of the NIAC himself, and his excellent book Treacherous Alliance.  It outlines the numerous ways in which Iranian policy calculates according to interest rather than ideology (and the public consumption thereof).

There is another reason, perhaps more obscure, that Muslim thinkers in the West are supporting the deal with no regard for the lives of Iraqis and Syrians – the old (but actually new) Sunni-Shi’i card.  It is presumed by some of these writers that if you oppose the Iran deal, you might just be a “disgruntled Sunni,” another Islamophobic trope that blankets 85% of Muslims.  On the Tavis Smiley show this past week, Aslan argued that the Saudi (i.e. Sunni) lobby was very much responsible for opposition to the deal for it is as “potent” a lobby as the pro-Israel lobby. I am not sure how he came to the conclusion of such strong Saudi influence. In 2003, as a vocal opponent of the Iraq War (as were the Saudis, whose “lobby” failed), I was involved in a radio debate and was told blankly I was a “Sunni” potentially anxious about “Shi’i power.” It did not occur to my colleague that, though born in Baghdad, I am an American – the thought of neither Sunni nor Shi’i power keeps me up at night.  But for the record, my mother is Shi’i and my father Sunni; most of my relatives are Shi’i (including a former mayor of Karbala).  Iraqis simply thought of themselves as Muslims – until the U.S. led invasion of Iraq, which relied heavily on Iranian cooperation.

Again, I want to be clear, I am opposed to an American or Israeli strike on Iran.  But were those the only two options?  I even welcome the relief of so many ordinary Iranians suffering from sanctions – but not Qasem Suliemani.  I cannot get excited about a deal that will only cause more suffering for the people of Iraq and Syria.  There seems to have been an opportunity to pressure Iran on Syria (at least) as part of the deal, but President Obama demonstrated no such concern.  Maybe he would have, if American Muslim writers were more nuanced and less antipathetic to the suffering of Iraqis and Syrians.  Parsi proudly adds that “many of the signers of the letter publicly opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003…History proved them right. Clearly they know a thing or two about international relations, the Middle East and Iran.”  I too publically opposed the war and know a thing or two about the region.  The only thing this deal proves to me – for certain – is that Iranian policy in Iraq and Syria is not something the Americans are concerned with.  But American Muslims, the same Muslims many of these writers claim to represent, will become increasingly concerned.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Chicago Monitor’s editorial policy.


10 COMMENTS

  1. This has to be one of the most blatant examples of hypocrisy and bias I’ve read recently about anything related to the middle east. To take two such complex conflicts (Iraq & Syria), involving multiple regional and global players, all vying for control, and turn it into “Iran’s Fault” is a joke.

    Is Iran partially to blame? Absolutely. But what about Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries that have poured millions into the coffers of extremists that are causing now much more destruction than even the Assad has. What about Turkey that opened up is borders and allowed non-Syrians from all over the world to go wage Jihad in the first place? What about the United States and Britain that invaded Iraq which led to rising of extremist on all sides? How about Russia that is also funding and supporting the Regime.

    Also, “its propping up of non-state militias who act just as morbid and brutal as ISIS but happen to be Shi’is”. Are you KIDDING me? Comparing Shi’a and Sunni extremist groups to one another is one thing, but comparing these Militias to ISIS which has brought back levels of brutality, depravity, and destruction that haven’t been seen since the days of Nazi Germany?? Are you serious? Slavery, Rape of little girls, taxes on any non-Sunni’s, almost destroying an entire people (Yazidi’s), bull-dozing historic/ancient sites, burning people alive, etc. etc. all the while Marketing their activities and brainwashing young Muslim’s from around the world to join. ARE YOU KIDDING??

    This article is a JOKE. Iran deal supporters don’t care about Iraqi and Syrian people? More like you don’t care about integrity and honesty Mr “SAUD(i)”

    • Yes, the Shi’a militias are fanatical, murderous and insane and they are backed by Iran. It gives me no pleasure to point this out.

      Facts speak louder than your rant.:

      “In 2003, Baghdad’s population was 65% Sunni and 45% Shi’i, today Baghdad is 25% Sunni and 75% Shi’i. From 2006 to 2009, Iranian backed militias literally cleansed Baghdad of its Sunni population. Hundreds of Sunni men were found daily, blindfolded and tied, shot execution style.”

      This article is about IRAN DEAL supporters and their fake pretense to care for Iraq and Syria while systematically killing and cleansing whole communities of Sunnis, ratcheting up sectarianism, supporting a brutal and bloodthirsty despot. The collective amnesia of the supporters in this regard is disingenuous and hypocritical.

      • Yes, the Shi’a militias are fanatical and murderous and backed by Iran. And if you cared about facts, you would follow up that statement with Sunni militias are fanatical, murderous, and back by Saudi and other Gulf countries. Yet ISIS, are murderous and fanatical BEYOND either Shi’a Militias or Sunni Militias, and they are also backed by Gulf Donors and Turkey.

        Instead you and the author of this article are ratcheting up sectarianism by pinning the blame on Shia’s and Iran – rather than taking the nuanced, more reasonable approach by assigning blame all around.

        More facts, http://www.statista.com/statistics/269731/civilian-deaths-per-day-by-suicide-bombings-in-iraq-war/. Baghdad and Iraq were (and still are) plagued by Suicide bombs targeting Shia population in the past 15 years in 2007 up to 22 civilians a day were dying by these Bombs. Zarqawi’s stated goal was to kill as many Shi’as a possible in order to ignite a civil war and bring down the government, they also bombed al-Askari mosque in 2006 which further perpetuated the violence. Once again, these elements were backed by Gulf donors and in fact involved Saudi Nationals. Does that qualify as fanatical and murderous, or can only Shi’as fit that description for you?

        You talk of sectarianism, yet you and the author are the very embodiment of it. If you’re on one side you are QUICK to condemn the violence done by the other side, yet ignore the violence being done by your side. You support an article like this, that makes blanket sectarian statements and imply basically that all Shias or Iran deal supporters don’t care for refugees and support Assad.

        The mentality that you and the author of this article have is what is wrong with the Muslim community today. Taking horribly complex issues, with deep histories, and assigning blame based on what you see that’s just on the surface and only on the opposite side of your artificial divide. This is NOT Shia vs. Sunni. Assad is not even Shia nor is his government Shia, he’s an Allawite who runs a Baathist Secular Party. Iran’s support of him is for geo-political reasons same as Russia’s support of him. And just because Iran supports him doesn’t mean that all Shia’s do. Shia’s in Syria are supporting him for the same reason Christians and other minorities are, because they are scared to death about what happens when ISIS takes over, it’s out of desperation.

        I support the Iran deal, I believe Assad is a despot that needs to step down, and my heart weeps for the refugees every hour of every day. I support the Iran deal because another war in the Middle East would just mean more death and more blood. It would mean more refugees and fanaticism. I support the Iran deal because it could mean that the moderates in Iran and the young people in Iran can get more power to initiate change so that in the future support for despots like Assad never happen in the first place.

  2. Thank you for writing this piece. There is no good reason, not averting a nuclear bomb, not resetting relations with Iran, that can justify relief to someone like Qassem Suleimani.

  3. Thank you for saying what Arab peoples already know. Iran’s pretence of resistance has been shown for the lie it is. Tehran and Tel Aviv are now interchangeable; both want to occupy Arab nations and oppress Arab peoples – which is probably the reason that the US and other world powers are happy to work with either.

    • And what about Saudi Arabia Raed? Saudi Arabia openly supported Israel when they were bombing Gaza back to the stone-age. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf donors are pouring millions into the coffers of ISIS (with many non-Arabs) that are killing Arabs and piece by piece destroying Syrian and Iraqi society. Saudi Arabia is now bombing Yemen back to the stone age. Oh and Saudi Arabia is America’s Major Ally in the region, Iran is not.

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