ISIL seen playing dual roles in Iraq, northern Syria on Iran's behalf
JERUSALEM — Al Qaida's Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has become a leading instrument by Iran to control the Levant, a report said.
The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs asserted that ISIL has been quietly cooperating with the Teheran regime. In a report, the center said ISIL, established in April 2013, has become immune to Iranian attack, particularly in northern Syria, as part of Teheran's aim to destabilize Iraq.
"Iran wants to be certain that a strong Iraqi state does not emerge again along its western border," the report, titled "ISIS: Iran's Instrument for Regional Hegemony?" said.
Author Pinhas Inbari, a leading Israeli analyst on the Middle East, said ISIL commanders came from the Syrian intelligence community. He said the regime of President Bashar Assad has avoided attacks on ISIL while releasing its fighters. One of them was identified as Abu Lukman, now ISIL's commander in the northern city of Raqa.
"After the revolt began, Syrian intelligence again took an interest in them, and freed them — in full coordination with Iran — so that they could infiltrate the ranks of the Salafis now fighting in Syria," the report said.
Turkey as well as Syrian opposition leaders have long linked ISIL with the Assad regime. But so far the United States, which reported Iran's harboring of Al Qaida commanders, has not confirmed cooperation between Al Qaida's largest franchise in the Middle East and either Damascus or Teheran.
But Arab analysts have asserted that ISIL's leadership, including commander Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, was close to Iranian and Syrian intelligence. They said this has been concealed from ISIL's rank-and-file, said to exceed 120,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria.
"It is unreasonable to expect Iran to fight ISIS," the report said. "If Iran does so, it would be turning against a movement that has been a useful surrogate for Teheran's interests."
The report cited the current fighting around the northeastern Syrian city of Dir Al Zour. Inbari said the Syrian Army maintained a siege on the city in the south while ISIL was deployed to the north and east. The Western-backed Free Syrian Army was said to be trapped inside the city.
"The ISIS connection with the Syrian leadership, and hence with Iran, raises serious questions," the report, dated June 19, said. "It was recently noted that President Assad released ISIS operatives from his prisons and for the most part left it alone, sparing it from attacks by the Syrian Army."
In Iraq, ISIL forged cooperation with Bedouin tribes in the Anbar and other provinces. The report said ISIL expanded its presence by breaking into prisons and releasing Sunni insurgents.
The report said Teheran has been aiding ISIL to help break up Iraq. The Iranian leadership was said to be intent in ending the threat of another powerful Iraq, which under the Saddam Hussein regime waged a war from 1980 to 1988.
"To avert that possibility, the Iranians prefer Iraq to become a subservient client state or alternatively, that it be divided along sectarian lines into Kurdish, Sunni and Shi'ite states," the report said.
"Presumably, Iran would control or annex the Shi'ite sector containing the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. In either case, ISIS would serve Iran as a useful tool for advancing its goal of achieving regional hegemony."