The military assaults against Mosul in Iraq and Aleppo in Syria are not as disparate and separate as people imagine. Yes, the cities are located in different countries. Yes, the Iraqi Security Forces are fighting Daesh militants while what is left of the Syrian Arab Army is fighting a collection of Syrian opposition factions which have united under the banner of the "Army of Aleppo". Yes, Russia is involved in the destruction of Syria whilst the United States is involved in the destruction of Iraq. But be under no illusion, Iran is the one constant in both battles, as well as being the primary beneficiary; it is attempting to destroy the Sunni Arabs.
It is by now no secret that Iran and its mullahs have benefited the most from the chaos unleashed by ex-President George W Bush's insane plan to export a US-approved, Frankenstein monster of a democracy to Iraq in 2003. Shia Iran, having incubated and developed terrorist organisations since the late 1970s, successfully managed to add a touch of window dressing to its terrorist flunkies such as the Iraqi Dawa Party (responsible for terrorist attacks throughout Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon and other places) and insert them into the highest offices of the Iraqi state. Current Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and his predecessor Nouri Al-Maliki hail from the same Tehran-sponsored party.
Before 2003, few people knew the difference between Sunnis and Shia, even amongst those who live in the Arab world. However, after rampant Iran-backed sectarianism took root in Iraq, and people were killed by the thousands for having Sunni names or for living in areas deemed "holy" to Shia Iran, the world suddenly started to associate all of the violence with events that occurred more than a millennium ago. However, the problems in Iraq have more to do with power politics and Iranian ambitions than religious issues.
Not content with its new-found power and influence in its former foe, neighbouring Iraq, the government in Tehran continued its long dalliance with the Syrian regime run by the Assad family. Iran stepped up its support for the Lebanese Hezbollah – a Shia organisation – which makes an occasional song and dance about being in the "Axis of Resistance", supposedly "resisting" Israeli Zionist expansionism. In reality, Israel was the excuse for Iran's own expansionism via its terrorist proxies like Hezbollah.
These relationships and strategic partnerships became important when the Syrian Revolution erupted in 2011 and rapidly turned violent after the Assad regime started killing innocent civilians. These included children such as 13-year-old Hamza Al-Khateeb, who was returned to his family mutilated in 2011, with his penis cut off by the brutal Syrian mukhabarat – secret police – as they tortured him to death.
Iran immediately threw its weight and proxies behind Bashar Al-Assad's savagery, and saw within the revolution a golden opportunity to eliminate the Sunni Arabs yet further, as well as to pull the Syrian dictator even deeper into its orbit by making him indebted to the mullahs. Without Tehran – and, in the past year, Russia – there is little doubt that Assad would have crumbled long ago.
Iran is now determined to quash the one enemy that can curtail its plans and annihilate any hope that Ayatollah Khomeini's 1979 "Islamic" revolution can be exported and implanted into neighbouring countries. That enemy is, of course, the Sunni Arabs who represent the largest demographic across the region.
By Sunni Arabs, I do not mean Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia or Qatar. These are political entities that represent only a small fragment of the behemoth that is the Sunni Arab entity. Instead, I refer to the Sunni Arabs as a people and as an identity. If Sunni Arabs were in charge of their own destinies rather than having to deal with despots who serve foreign masters in the West as opposed to the interests of their own people, it is highly doubtful that Iran would be as powerful as it is today.
Iran knows this, and that is why it is not only destroying bastions of Sunni Arab civilisation such as Mosul and Aleppo, but also the very idea and identity of what it means to be a Sunni Arab. The vast majority of the millions of refugees flooding Europe and other countries around the world from the Middle East are both Sunnis and Arabs; it is one of the largest mass depopulation campaigns in human history. Smaller, but no less terrifying, examples of this across the region, include Iran-sanctioned sectarian and ethnic cleansing which can be seen clearly in places such as Samarra in Iraq, where Sunnis are being driven out in order to create homogeneously Shia zones and "safe" corridors that stretch from Iran and pass through Iraq and on into Syria.
Iran is committing all of these crimes against the Sunni Arabs directly through the so-called Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or indirectly through its many proxies, and using Daesh extremists as the perfect cover. By claiming to fight terrorism, the mullahs nestle themselves within a common narrative now used by imperialist powers throughout the world who claim to be restoring peace and order to a region, when they are in fact robbing them of their freedom and livelihoods. Just ask people about the US who "fought the war on terror" in Iraq and Afghanistan and completely destroyed the two countries; or ask about Russia, which claims to be doing the same today in Syria while slaughtering thousands of Syrians who have nothing to do with either terrorism or politics.
Indeed, the presumptive US Defence Secretary, General James Mattis, identified Iran as the country which has benefited the most from the existence of Daesh, despite the former being extremist Shia and the latter being extremist Sunni. "I consider [Daesh] just an excuse for Iran to continue its mischief [in the region]," Mattis said earlier this year. "The one country in the Middle East who has not been attacked by [Daesh] is Iran."
While it is doubtful that the United States under soon-to-be President Donald Trump will do anything substantial to curtail Iran's millenarian foreign policy, it is equally doubtful that the mullahs will be able to maintain their imperialism. Sunni Arabs represent the overwhelming majority of the population in the Middle East, and even the destruction of major Sunni Arab cities such as Aleppo and Mosul will not be enough to erase the Sunnis from existence, much as the fanatical Iranian regime would like that.
Inevitably, the Sunni Arabs – as a people and not necessarily as states – will band together in order to push back against the existential and genocidal threat they face from Iranian sectarianism. When that time comes – and come it will – the Iranian regime will rue the day that it decided to move too far west of the Zagros mountains into the lands of the Sunni Arabs.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.