"None of this comes as a surprise," said Mark Dubowitz of the agreement and Iran's expanding military role in Iraq. Dubowitz leads the Iran sanctions and nonproliferation projects for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which describes itself as a non-partisan policy institute focused on promoting "democratic values" and countering "ideologies that drive terrorism."
Dubowitz sees Iran "hedging its bets" in Iraq, bolstering its influence in both the military and among its loyal militias.
"Iran has obviously been training the Shia militias and using the proxies very effectively in Iraq and elsewhere. I'd imagine that Iran is hedging their bets: Train the security forces and the militias so you can increase your influence and facilitate the coordination between the formal service and the militias and ensure that, whoever comes out the winner, you retain effective control. It's the same playbook in Lebanon; Hezbollah has been the proxy but Iran has also exerted increasing influence over the uniformed military services"
Negotiations over Iran's nuclear facilities have brought Washington and Tehran into close contact since President Obama took office. ISIS supplied the "enemy of my enemy logic" that put the U.S. and Iran on the same side, but despite tacit cooperation in Iraq, no formal alliance exists in the common fight against ISIS. That leaves plenty of questions to be resolved between two powerful countries trying to influence the outcome of a war they are fighting through third parties.
"If I were Iranian intelligence, I'd be looking at this very carefully," said Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "It's an interesting way for the MOIS [Iran's ministry of intelligence] and Revolutionary Guards to get under the tents and learn all they can about U.S. training, force posture, and power projection.
"From the perspective of the Iraqi security services, I'd be betting on the Iranians," Dubowitz said. "I'd be getting as much training and weaponry from the Americans while it's on offer, but at the end of the day I'd be betting that Iranian boots are going to stay on the ground long after American boots."