U.S. and Iran Both Conflict and Converge – TIM ARANGO and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK/The New York Times
BAGHDAD — American troops advising Iraqi security forces in restive Anbar Province are sharing a base with odd bedfellows: an Iranian-backed militia that once killed United States soldiers. Both are fighting the militants of the Islamic State.
Here in the capital, though, Tehran and Washington still line up on opposite sides. The United States is urging the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government to do more to enlist members of the Sunni minority against the Islamic State. Shiite-led Iran and its proxies are thwarting that effort.
The dichotomy illustrates the complexities of the relationship between the United States and Iran in places like Iraq, where the interests of the two rivals clash and converge. Now, after a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program cleared its biggest congressional hurdle last week, the United States will have to navigate an increasingly complicated regional maze with an Iran newly empowered by international legitimacy and relief from economic sanctions.
What is more, there are also indications that the contacts between the two countries that accompanied the nuclear negotiations have begun to produce more areas of limited collaboration in Iraq, Afghanistan and, to a lesser extent, in Yemen, adding to the tangle.
Critics say that the nuclear deal will only embolden Iran to escalate its myriad proxy campaigns against the United States and its allies: arming Hezbollah and Hamas to fight Israel; deploying Iranian troops to defend President Bashar al-Assad of Syria; backing Houthi rebels in Yemen or more shadowy militants in other Persian Gulf states; and holding Lebanese politics hostage to its interests.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has complained that the deal will enrich his country’s greatest foe. American allies in the Sunni-led monarchies of the Persian Gulf warn of widening sectarian conflict around the region like the continuing wars in Syria and Yemen.
But though the United States and Iran each face domestic pressures against closer relations, some analysts see a more collaborative relationship as an inevitable if uneasy consequence of the negotiations leading up to the nuclear deal — despite the insistence of leaders on either side that the American-brokered agreement would be limited to Iran’s nuclear program.