Islamic State May Collapse in Syria. Now the U.S. Must Prevent Its Replacement by the Islamic Republic

June 23, 2017 | Nader Uskowi
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Since May, American forces in Syria have attacked a supply convoy of Iranian troops and Iran-backed militias and shot down two Iranian drones and one Syrian fighter jet. In each of these cases, Iran and its allies had first violated the U.S. zone of operations established by agreement with Russia; in two cases, aircraft directly attacked American troops. Tehran also fired ballistic missiles at Islamic State (IS) targets in the Euphrates River Valley, a move, Nader Uskowi writes, “signaling to all [Iran’s] opponents, including the United States and its allies, its intention to compete in the area after the Islamic State falls.” Thus, Uskowi argues, as IS is on the verge of crumbling, Washington must seek to thwart Iran’s plan to consolidate its influence throughout Syria:

Iran-led forces . . . will present arguably the greatest future threat to U.S. military personnel and interests in Syria. In the Iraq-Syria border region, Iran is executing a strategy centered on establishing a land bridge to Syria through Iraqi territory. Such a plan will inevitably cause direct conflict with U.S.-backed Sunni opposition forces. . . . [Their] big battles will thus be fought against the Shiite militias, led by Iranian special forces. . . .

The new battlespace in formerly IS-held territories . . . calls for a new U.S. policy, the chief component of which should be a strategy targeting Iran’s Qods Force and its Shiite militias. . . . Iranian strategy unmistakably focuses on defeating U.S.-supported opposition forces and pushing the United States out of Syria. Absent a new strategy that addresses Iran’s involvement in Syria, U.S. and allied forces could [do little more than] resort to self-defense tactics when under attack. In the process, such relative passivity could embolden Iran to raise the temperature in hopes of booting U.S. forces from the country. . . .

Iran-led forces are, with strong backing from Russia, already in control of Alawite-led western Syria. Their expansion into the Sunni-majority east and south could prolong the civil war and risk widening it further, . . . pitting major powers against each other. . . . Any attempt by Iran to extend the Sunni-Shiite conflict into those regions should be stopped in its tracks.

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