Iran's President calls airstrikes on ISIS 'theater,' says broader campaign needed
Airstrikes against ISIS militants are a "psychological operation," not a military one, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told CNN's Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Friday.
"It is a common threat for all of us," he said. "And this requires a unison effort from all of us."
"We need a vast campaign of operations ... the aerial bombardment campaign is mostly, I would say, a form of theater, rather than a serious battle against terrorism."
Iran and the United States have found their foreign policies surprisingly aligned in the past several months, as both try to beat back the advance of the Sunni extremists that have gained a foothold in Iraq and war-torn Syria.
While the United States has limited itself thus far to airstrikes in those two countries, Iran has sent Revolutionary Guard units into Iraq; the head of the Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force, Qassem Suleimani, has even been photographed on the ground in Iraq.
Five Gulf countries, traditional adversaries of Shiite Iran, joined with the United States in a rare coalition to strike ISIS in Syria.
However, Rouhani said he'd like to distance himself "from the word 'coalition' because some countries haven't come together under the umbrella of this coalition."
The question of Syria
Many of the countries participating in the coalition have long pushed for the ouster of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, as the Emir of Qatar told Amanpour on Thursday in his first-ever interview. Iran, on the other hand, is al-Assad's most fervent backer; most military analysts agree that the regime would have fallen long ago were it not for Iran's 2012 intervention in the conflict.
"How do you feel," Amanpour asked Rouhani, "as the president of Iran, as the main military backer of a regime, the Assad regime, that the United Nations has said has killed 200,000 of its own people -- tortured people, executed people. Why does Iran want to be associated with that kind of genocidal barbarism?"
"The army of that country was carrying out a battle against the terrorists," Rouhani replied. "They kept saying that these are opposition members and we will keep asking who are these opposition members who have preferred to take up arms so swiftly and so savagely and violent, reasons rather than resorting to talks and negotiations?"
Amanpour countered that "it all started when (the Syrian people) wanted a little bit of reform and the government of that nation responded in a way that the United Nations now says has caused the death of 200,000 civilians."
"If the army of the Syrian people, the Syrian government, had not stood up and fought against terrorism," Rouhani said, "who do you think would have been the victor today? Let's assume no one would have rendered assistance. The victor would have been the same people that everyone is recognizing as terrorists today."