The regional bully

August 5, 2011

As Iran continues to shell Iraqi Kurdistan’s border villages day after day, the public as well as observers of the border situation and Iran’s politics are becoming increasingly convinced that the strikes have nothing to do with Iran being attacked by armed groups in Iraq. Instead, it has everything to do with Iran testing its limits with the Kurds, Iraq and the USA.

What’s interesting to note is that all three are simply watching the situation; each is hoping not to be confronted with the task of dealing with the problem. But in reality, all three are being humiliated and dared by Iran to react.

The reality is that all three need to respond to each in their own way. The lack of response is making the Kurds, Iraq and the USA weaker and less relevant to the politics of a new Middle East.

The muted or feeble Kurdish response, and lack of unity over how to address the attacks, are undermining the Kurdish authorities and making it easier for Iran to advance more deeply into their region. This is occurring despite the efforts of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to keep Iran’s opposition at bay and stop them from launching attacks against Iran – a stance that severely damaged the KRG’s reputation among Kurds in other parts of Kurdistan.

Observers also believe that Iran is sending a message to the Iraqi Kurds regarding their close relationship with the USA.

The attacks are also warning Turkey not to support Syria’s opposition in the current uprising, which, if it succeeds, would be more detrimental to Iran than any other country in the region. Iran is desperately seeking a strong alternate foothold in the region to face emerging threats from the new “Sunni” regime in Syria and the Arab world. The best place for Iran is Baghdad, whose clout over Iran these days is next to zero.

Baghdad has conveniently shifted the Iran shelling issue to the Kurdish foreign minister. Keeping the problem in Kurdish hands contradicts the position that Iraqi Kurds are part of the country.

Perhaps that position is conditional, depending on the situation.

When it comes to oil contracts or revenue, the Kurds are part of Iraq. Yet when it comes to shelling by Iran and Turkey, the Kurds become autonomous. The central government’s silence does nothing but undermine Baghdad and the Kurds, and will be especially damaging when US forces withdraw from the country.

The US is also being tested and undermined. Washington cannot afford to continue claiming that they are protecting Iraq while watching as their arch-rival in the region bombs its borders. Iran is sending a clear message that the US is not in charge and that Teheran calls the shots on the border, not the US.

Another interesting name is emerging from eyewitness testimonies and statements by some local officials. That name is Ansar al-Islam, or the Kurdish version of Al-Qaeda. It now appears that if PJAK leaves the border areas, the vacuum will almost immediately be filled by Iranian-based Ansar al-Islam.

The longer the Iranian shelling continues, the more powerful this extremist group becomes. And the longer the Kurds, the Iraqis and the American refuse to act, the less relevant they will become in the new Middle East — especially in light of the US withdrawal and the emergence of new regimes.

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