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The United States, at some level or another, is now working with Iran and some groups within Syria to stop the so-called Islamic State or ISIS from taking over Iraq and much of Syria. There are even reports that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has ordered his military commanders to work with the U.S. military in Iraq to defeat ISIS. Iran, after all, shares a significant border with Iraq.

Iran has a Shia majority (Shiites), while ISIS is a Sunni group. When ISIS took control of the town of Amerli, Iraq, American air strikes supported Iranian-backed Shia troops and Northern Iraqi Kurdish forces to retake the town. This has been repeated in many towns across Iraq.

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A primary factor in the development of ISIS is the American invasion and destabilization of Iraqi. This allowed Iran to develop a significant influence over Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and his military forces. In a joint column published in the Capital Gazette, Republican Tom Ridge and Democrat Howard Dean remind us how ISIS took advantage of the resulting sectarian divisions within Iraq, as well as civil war in Syria, to become the powerful force they are today. "Backed increasingly by Shiite Iran," wrote Ridge and Dean, Prime Minister Maliki "adopted policies that alienated large segments of the [Sunni] population. Those policies paved the way for the rise of extremist and terrorist Sunni groups like Islamic State."

Iraq now has a new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, and a new power-sharing government, including Shiite and Sunni representatives. "With the introduction of a new prime minister," wrote Ridge and Dean, "Washington has an opportunity to ensure that all of Iraq's diverse political voices are embodied in a democratic political order."

Iran's developing nuclear program has been a target of U.S. and Israeli war hawks for years. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other Republicans, as well as the Israeli government have criticize President Barack Obama many times for not bombing Iran's nuclear facilities.

Perhaps Obama's cautionary approach to starting new wars in the Middle East is a strength and not a weakness as has been portrayed by many war hawks. After all, if we listened to McCain and Israel, the current American-Iranian partnership to fight ISIS in Iraq is difficult to imagine. Regardless, defeating Iran's nuclear program has taken a back seat to defeating ISIS.

Much of the military equipment used by ISIS forces was American equipment given to and then abandoned by Iraqi troops as they retreated from ISIS forces. Perhaps we should think long and hard before arming other nations or groups, including Syrian groups, as recommended by many.

Is there any doubt that arms sent to "moderate" Syrian rebels would now be in the hands of ISIS? Are there really "moderate" rebel forces in Syria that we can trust? How do we know that Obama's plan to send weapons to rebel forces in Syria will not end up in the hands of ISIS fighters? How do we know that these rebel forces aren't working with ISIS or are not just as bad as ISIS?

Syria is ruled by dictator-for-life Bashar al-Assad. Assad is noted for using poison gas to kill his own people during a multi-year civil war. American war hawks have criticized Obama for not bombing Assad's forces and for not helping rebel forces there trying to oust Assad. Complicating our problems with Assad is that he has joined the fight against ISIS because they are capturing more and more Syrian territory.

American forces now find themselves cooperating with Iranian forces and some forces in Syria to save Iraq from ISIS. But are the unintended consequences of this aid helpful to increase Iran's influence in the region? By defeating ISIS are we also saving Assad? There are numerous potential unintended consequences to our actions.

For example, I just read that after ISIS is driven out of Iraqi towns, the Shiites in town start killing the Sunni people in revenge. Once again we are reminded that the conflicts in this part of the world will never be solved through military force.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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