Tehran Doubles Down

Iran's Plan to Win Iraq's Sectarian War

Iraqi women walk past a poster depicting images of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at al-Firdous Square in Baghdad on February 12, 2014. Courtesy Reuters

Although the Iranian debate about what to do in Iraq has not been as loud as the one in the United States, it has been equally intense. That should come as no surprise. For Iran, a civil war in neighboring Iraq, or a partitioning of that country, is less an occasion for political score-settling (as in Washington in recent days) than a threat to national security.

Iranian policymakers understand that, and their recent public statements make it possible to discern the basic outlines of Iran’s strategy. On the one hand, Tehran will shore up the Shia-dominated government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as it organizes Shia-dominated military forces and informal militias to combat the Sunni insurgents that have gained control of northwestern Iraq. On the other hand, Tehran will attempt to frame the conflict in Iraq in nonsectarian terms, presenting it, instead, as a war against terrorism. That

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