Iran Qassem Suleimani celebrating with Hade Amre, chief of Shia militias, during the liberation of Jawlala in Iraq from the Islamic State.
As the US provides air cover for Iranian-backed militias fighting ISIS (aka the Islamic State, ISIL, and/or Daesh) in Iraq, t he longest continuously serving American official in the country has strong opinions about who is in control.
Ali Khedery, who served as a special assistant to five US ambassadors and a senior adviser to three heads of US Central Command between 2003 and 2009, told The New York Times: “For the Iranians, really, the gloves are off.”
He highlighted the role of Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Qods Force, the foreign arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps. Qods is directing sectarian militias in both Iraq and Syria. At the same time, Suleimani is nurturing the guerilla proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis rebel group in Yemen — in other words, he is controlling powerful Shia proxies all across the Middle East.
“Suleimani is the leader of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen,” Khedery said. “Iraq is not sovereign. It is led by Suleimani, and his boss, [Iranian Supreme Leader] Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei."
"In Iraq, a degree of coordination between the American military and Iran’s is imperative but also awkward," The Times notes, "making it appear that the United States is working in tandem with its adversary."
The Obama administration, while denying any coordination, does not seem to mind Iran's empowerment as the two countries negotiate a potential nuclear deal that Obama hopes will rebalance the region for the better.
The consequences of the Iran-backed agenda are becoming increasingly clear, however, as the regime of Bashar Assad continues to rain barrel bombs on civilians, Al Qaeda's Syria affiliate routs US-backed rebels, Tehran sends more fighters to bolster Assad, Iraqi Shia militias torch Sunni villages in Iraq, and ISIS runs a self-declared caliphate across both Iraq and Syria.
In August, Khedery told Reza Akhlaghi of the Foreign Policy Association that these circumstances will only breed more sectarian violence.
"So what will happen is that the spiral of sectarian warfare will increase more and more, radicalizing the Sunni populations more and more and eventually spilling over into countries across the region almost all of which have mixed Shia-Sunni populations," the former adviser said.
Morgan Stanley A look at the Sunni-Shia divide across the Middle East.
Khedery has been very critical of the Obama administration's handling of Iraq.
The thrust of his critique involves Obama's decision to back former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, an Iran-backed Shia, in December 201o while also betraying promises made to the Sunni tribal leaders who had previously fought with American troops against ISIS predecessor Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
America's continued support of Maliki made it so that "Iraq’s path toward civil war was really inevitable," Khedery said in August, explaining that Maliki steered Baghdad "toward a very pro-Iranian and sectarian agenda, which inevitably disillusioned and disenfranchised Sunni Arabs for a second time."
Meanwhile, the US turned away from Iraq after Washington went along with the plan created by Suleimani, effectively handing off the country to Iran as a way to remove US troops and still stabilize the country.
"Maliki’s misrule in Iraq and Assad’s misrule in Syria, and their cooperation along with the Iranians and Hezbollah to wage a campaign of genocide, led to a region-wide sectarian war while the United States under President Obama stood back and watched and did nothing as the violence spiraled further and further out of control," Khedery argued in August.
More From Business Insider