As the Sunni fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham inch towards Baghdad, all eyes seem to be riveted on Iran, and the most imploring set of eyes seem to belong to the United States of America. Although the US has promised “intense” support to Iraq, it has no intention of getting bogged down in another military adventure. The recent mission of the US secretary of state, John Kerry, was more to prod Nouri al-Maliki to revise State policy and perhaps put together a wartime unity government than to promise anything more substantial. He could have hardly done otherwise with the US president already rejecting a military solution and placing the onus of checking the advance of the ISIS militants on Iraq’s neighbours. Among Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and the brave peshmerga Kurds in Iraq’s north who are holding out against the ISIS, that message could have been targeted specifically at Iran, which already has ground presence in Iraq. The US does not appear to mind even a collaborative effort with Iran, and such an idea is believed to have been floated during last week’s discussions in Vienna on Iran’s nuclear programme. Introspection inside Iran also, for a while, appeared to be tilting opinion (not public) towards such a possibility. That is till Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called a halt to such imaginings by insisting that there is no reason to believe that Iraq’s war is sectarian and that the US needs to get involved in Iraq again.
There can be little doubt about what Iran’s supreme leadership has in mind. For one, Iran has never had a more direct and welcome chance of intervention in the region than it has now, with most world powers willing to stand by and allow pro-Iran governments in both Iran and Syria. Iran cannot afford to dilute the Shiite counter-charge by joining hands with the US that has had a longstanding relationship with its bête noire — Sunni Arab nations that fund Sunni militancy to check Iran’s influence. Besides, if the world gets too dependent on it to preserve regional stability, Iran could have a fair chance to retain its nuclear prerogative. Unfortunately, the Ayatollah’s attempt to downplay the sectarian colour of the conflict does not make it any less dangerous than it already is. With Shias and Sunnis the world over earnestly filling up forms to join the battle in the region, Iraq could become the world’s largest sinkhole of human conflict.