MESOP INQUIRY : Analysts express concern over Iranian involvement on both sides of sectarian conflict

2-7-2014 – Reports surfaced over the weekend that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) had announced it had reformed the caliphate – an Islamic state stretching across the region – headed by ISIS chief Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. The news will be read alongside increasing concerns over the degree to which Iran has strengthened both Sunni and Shiite extremists in Iraq in recent years, deepening sectarian tensions in the country.

President Barack Obama last week blasted the Islamic republic for supporting Iraqi Shiites at the expense of an inclusive government, and the Washington Free Beacon reported that Tehran had provided shelter and protection to Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the predecessor of ISIS during the 2000s. Last week, Mohsen Milani, executive director of the Center for Strategic & Diplomatic Studies and a political professor at the University of South Florida, worried that Iran’s history of stoking sectarianism in Iraq had been a boon to ISIS, noting that the group’s “rapid advances were only possible because the population of Sunni-majority areas of Iraq felt entirely alienated” from Baghdad and “believed that ISIS offered them a better opportunity to govern their own affairs.” Meanwhile, the Pentagon on Monday announced it was sending an additional 300 troops to Iraq to provide additional security for among other things the U.S. embassy and the Baghdad airport.