In June 28, 2016 remarks at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was asked whether Iran's influence in Iraq was "more helpful or more harmful." He replied: "Look, we have challenges with Iran as everybody knows, and we're working on those challenges. But I can tell you that Iran in Iraq has been, in certain ways, helpful, and they clearly are focused on ISIL-Daesh, and so we have a common interest, actually."
This statement grants U.S. legitimacy to Iran's military presence and activity on Iraqi soil, based on the claim that Iran and the U.S. have shared interests in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) and that "Iran is a helpful" element. Additionally, Kerry claims that Iran's focus in Iraq is the war against ISIS.
According to this statement, Kerry is disregarding the activity by Iran and the Shi'ite militias that it operates in Iraq against the local Sunni population, as well as reports of ethnic cleansing and targeting of non-Shi'ite civilians in the country.
Likewise, in granting this legitimacy, he has set no conditions or restrictions, thereby giving a U.S. seal of approval to the Iranian regime's historic ambition to bring Iraq under its control and divide it into Shi'ite and Sunni sections.
It should be noted that for the past two years, Iran has been operating militarily in Iraq by means of Shi'ite militias that it established under the command of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force commander Qassem Suleimani, and also, recently, with direct involvement of Iranian troops. A comprehensive report on this subject is forthcoming.
The Facebook page "Iran Military," which is affiliated with the IRGC, posted an image of armed Iranian and Iraqi soldiers together in Iraq.
Armed Iranian and Iraqi soldiers in Iraq (Facebook.com/Iran.Military, June 27, 2016)
This legitimization by the U.S. administration also provides insight into its affinity for supporting the Shi'ite Iran against the Sunni world, which was also manifested in the far-reaching concessions made to Iran in the JCPOA. This affinity is part of President Obama's political-ideological view, which he has expressed in media interviews discussing the need to create Shi'ite-Sunni equilibrium in the region. To this end, Obama even urged the Saudis to accept Iran's upgraded geopolitical status and a downgrade in the geopolitical status of the Sunni world. It should be mentioned that Shi'ite Muslims are only about 10% of the global Muslim population, and therefore the U.S. plan to strengthen Shi'ites at the expense of Sunnis is vehemently opposed in leading Sunni countries.
It should also be mentioned that this U.S. support for an Iranian presence in Iraq is interpreted as, and in actuality constitutes, support for the entire resistance axis of Iran-Syria-Hizbullah-Yemen-Iraq, and not just for Iran - thus, further increasing the Sunni world's opposition to the U.S.'s policy in the region.
*Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI; A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project.
 State.gov/secretary/remarks/2016/06/259165.htm, June 28, 2016.
 Foreign Policy, February 19 and March 28, 2015.
 It should be mentioned that Iran is also fighting the Kurds in Northern Iraq. According to reports in the past two weeks in Iranian and Arab press, IRGC forces bombed Kurdish troops on the Iran-Iraq border. Tasnim (Iran), June 28, 2016; Orient-news.net, June 28, 2016.