Iran is hosting a contest for cartoons that ridicule the Islamic State as militias supported by Tehran expand their fight against the terrorist group in Iraq.
Iran’s House of Cartoon, which is financed by the local government in Tehran, has organized the display of the submissions this week from more than 40 countries. While several of the cartoons deride the leaders of the Islamic State (IS), others link IS to the United States and Israel despite both countries’ denunciations of the group’s attacks.
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The cartoon contest comes as Iranian-backed militias have launched a new offensive against IS in Iraq’s western Anbar province. While a U.S.-led coalition has initiated airstrikes against the terrorist group in Iraq, officials have raised concerns about an expanded role for the Shiite militias following the fall of the city Ramadi.
A greater presence for the Iran-backed militias could worsen sectarian tensions in Anbar, which is predominantly inhabited by Sunni Muslims.
Critics of Tehran say events such as the cartoon contest portray Iran as a bulwark against IS while whitewashing its support for other terrorist groups.
Ali Safavi, a member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the country’s parliament-in-exile, said that the contest is "clearly designed to legitimize Tehran’s nefarious and dangerously expanding military intervention in Iraq and to divert attention from its role as the godfather of fundamentalism and the central banker of international terrorism."
The State Department’s most recent country reports on terrorism said that "Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism worldwide remained undiminished through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), its Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and Tehran’s ally Hezbollah, which remained a significant threat to the stability of Lebanon and the broader region." In addition to Lebanon, Iran has supported extremist proxies in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
Safavi noted that Iran has also committed gross human rights abuses despite its condemnation of the Islamic State’s atrocities. The Iranian regime executes hundreds of prisoners each year, including political dissidents, and has been accused of oppressing religious minorities.
"The fact is that Iran’s ruling theocracy has been perpetrating similar atrocities against Iranian dissidents and ordinary citizens ever since it consolidated its medieval rule," Safavi said. "It has not only routinely carried out eye-gouging, limb amputation, stoning to death and other forms of degrading and inhumane punishments, but also has written these acts of barbarity in the regime’s penal code."
Organizers of the contest said the event provided an opportunity to inform the public about IS, but did not mention criticism of Iran’s alleged abuses.
"Nowadays everyone around the world knows about the parasite by the name of [Islamic State] and what crimes they have committed against humanity and art and culture," said Mohammad Habibi, the executive secretary of the contest, in an interview with an Iranian outlet. "Artists now have the duty to raise public awareness about this group by participating in such events."
Iran has previously elicited widespread criticism for its cartoon contests. The House of Cartoon was also behind the second International Holocaust Cartoon Contest earlier this month, which has included submissions that deny the Holocaust and other anti-Semitic depictions.
Despite the proliferation of contests, Iran has not always supported cartoons as a form of expression. The Iranian Foreign Ministry called the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad "provocative" in the French weekly Charlie Hebdo, though it did condemn the January terrorist attack on the magazine’s office that killed 12 people.
The United States and other world powers continue to seek a deal with Iran that would curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Those negotiations have not included discussions of Iran’s alleged support for terrorism.