John McCain
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., says the US shouldn't partner with Iran on Iraq. Reuters

On the heels of the U.S. possibly discussing cooperation with Iran to stem the advance of an al Qaeda splinter group in Iraq, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the idea of partnering with Tehran “the height of folly.”

“It would be the height of folly to believe that the Iranian regime can be our partner in managing the deteriorating security situation in Iraq,” McCain said in a statement Monday. “This is the same Iranian regime that has trained and armed the most dangerous Shia militant groups, that has consistently urged [Iraqi] Prime Minister [Nouri] Maliki to pursue a narrow sectarian agenda at the expense of national reconciliation, that supplies the rockets that have been fired at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, that has sponsored acts of terrorism throughout the Middle East and the world, and that continues to use Iraq’s territory and airspace to send weapons and fighters to prop up [President] Bashar al-Assad in Syria."

McCain’s comments were made amid reports that the U.S. might discuss a role with Iran about fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The countries were already set to talk this week in Vienna about Iran’s nuclear program, a main point of contention between the two longtime adversaries.

While the negotiations are expected to be solely about the nuclear program, “it may be that on the margins of the [meeting], but completely unconnected to it, that there may be some conversation” about Iraq, an unnamed senior administration official told Reuters.

The two countries may be at odds over Tehran’s nuclear program, but the U.S. and Iran both have an interest in rooting out ISIS, a Sunni militant group that wants to carve out a caliphate in portions of Iraq and Syria. The majority of Iran’s population is Shiite, and Tehran has come to the aid of neighboring Iraq, where Maliki’s government is dominated by Shiites.

But McCain said Iran wouldn’t be a fitting partner for the U.S.

“The reality is, U.S. and Iranian interests and goals do not align in Iraq, and greater Iranian intervention would only make the situation dramatically worse,” he said. “It would inflame sectarian tensions, strengthen the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, drive more Sunnis into ISIS’s ranks, empower the most radical Shia militants, deepen the Iraqi government's dependence on Iran, alienate U.S. allies and partners in the region, and set back the prospects of national reconciliation.”

McCain said the U.S. “should be seeking to minimize greater Iranian involvement in Iraq right now, not encouraging it.

“That means rapid, decisive U.S. action to degrade ISIS and halt their offensive in Iraq. And it means dramatically increasing U.S. military assistance and support to moderate opposition forces in Syria that are fighting both ISIS and the Assad regime. The longer we wait to act, the more our Iraqi partners grow dependent on the Iranian regime. That is neither in our interest nor consistent with the values for which we stand.”