Iran and the United States Must Cooperate — Now — Against Advancing Islamic Militants in Iraq, Says Baylor University Expert on Religious Wars

Philip Jenkins, Ph.D.
June 17, 2014

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WACO, Texas (June 17, 2014) — Secretary of State John Kerry’s “no hurry” approach to United States-Iranian cooperation to combat advancing Islamic militants in Iraq is a “sensible, diplomatic one” – and the wrong one, says a Baylor University expert on religious wars.

“Intervention must be in place very soon, as in this week,” says Philip Jenkins, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of History in Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, who frequently authors op-ed pieces in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and New Republic. He noted that the “the only power in the (Middle East) neighborhood with the ability to stop the advance of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) — and mass murder across Iraq — is Iran.

"ISIS draws its support entirely from the Sunni Arab minority, perhaps a fifth of the total population, and it could only rule larger ethnic groups through vicious terror and forced depopulation. It is an intolerable prospect."

Jenkins said that Iran is "an experienced military power with a deep commitment to the present Iraqi regime, and an intimate cultural bond with the nation’s large Shia majority . . . Iran is optimally placed to fight ISIS and to protect threatened Shia populations.

"Considerations of brotherhood apart, the last thing the Iranians want to see is the arrival of millions of Shia Iraqi refugees on their territory. Already, Iran has sent some thousands of soldiers to help the Baghdad regime, but much more is needed to achieve any lasting effect."

Iran would benefit immensely from U.S. support, especially air support," he said.

He said he would be "extremely surprised" if U.S.-Iranian cooperation is not already in place, and "it will become more obvious in the coming weeks.”

He predicted that major military supplies will reach Iran very soon through middlemen contractors not overtly tied to the U.S.

In the Iran-U.S. hostage crisis from 1979 to 1981, 66 American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for 444 days, but today Iran is “our enemy’s enemy,” and U.S.-Iran cooperation is “necessary. It’s essential,” Jenkins said.

“The problem is that it may well not be legal, given the network of restrictions and sanctions that the West has imposed upon Iran. Saving Iraq might be possible, but politically, it is very risky indeed.”

Kerry told Yahoo! News that Washington was open to discussions with Iran and that he would “not rule out anything might be constructive.” But he said contacts with Iran would be “step by step.”

Former deputy CIA director Mike Morell, meanwhile, has said that partnering with the Iranians would not be in the best interests of the United States.

Jenkins further discusses the latest Iraqi crisis in a column in Aleteia: “Our Secret Alliance With Iran.”

Jenkins is co-director of the Program on Historical Studies of Religion at Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion. He is the author of frequent op-ed pieces to major publications and of the book “The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade.”


Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.


Launched in August 2004, the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) exists to initiate, support and conduct research on religion, involving scholars and projects spanning the intellectual spectrum: history, psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, political science, epidemiology, theology and religious studies. The institute’s mandate extends to all religions, everywhere, and throughout history, and embraces the study of religious effects on prosocial behavior, family life, population health, economic development and social conflict. While always striving for appropriate scientific objectivity, ISR scholars treat religion with the respect that sacred matters require and deserve.

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