Hezbollah’s reign of violence in Iraq is a regional problem
Lebanese Shia jihadist leader Hassan Nasrallah declared recently that his Hezbollah organisation would begin to withdraw from Iraqi territory, after having spent years training, equipping and leading Iraqi Shia militants.
Nasrallah said the Islamic State (ISIS) had been defeated and therefore Hezbollah fighters could be redeployed elsewhere “to areas where they are needed.”
Apparently, they are needed in Lebanon, if only to grandstand against Israel after US President Donald Trump’s calamitous decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of the Jewish state.
The leader of one of Iran’s main proxies in Iraq, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), a militant Shia group, was captured on camera touring the Israeli-Lebanese ceasefire line accompanied by Hezbollah commanders. This prompted Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to declare that AAH’s leader, Qais al-Khazali, had breached Lebanese law by attempting to involve himself in the divided country’s foreign policy.
Why should anyone be surprised that Khazali, a Hezbollah protege and Iranian stooge, has decided to stick his nose into the affairs of a country that does not even border his own? After all, Nasrallah may have declared “mission accomplished” over his organisation’s role in the sectarian bloodbath that is modern Iraq but the decision was not his to make.
While Nasrallah is undoubtedly senior to newcomers such as Khazali in the pecking order, both Shia extremists are beholden to a higher power — Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The IRGC is in ultimate command of Hezbollah; why else was the Lebanese outfit present in Iraq and hand over arms and ammunition to IRGC affiliates there? This is why it trained, advised and commanded Shia jihadists in Iraq and Syria.
The IRGC controls global Shia jihadism in a way groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda can only dream of controlling global Sunni extremism. This is particularly so considering Iran’s long-standing ties to al-Qaeda, its supposed nemesis, with the US Treasury sanctioning al-Qaeda operatives living in Iran as recently as last year.
The reality is that, like Hezbollah, most of the Iraqi state apparatuses, security forces and attached militant groups controlled by the Popular Mobilisation Forces are tendrils of Iranian power and influence. Hezbollah’s presence in Iraq can be restored at any moment, should the IRGC request it, and Iraq is used as a hub for the transportation of Shia jihadists and materiel from Iran all the way to the Mediterranean.
This raises questions about the prospects of success that Saudi Arabia’s recent charm offensive on Iraq will have, as it will be extraordinarily difficult to wean Iraq’s fanatical Shia Islamist parties and militias from Iranian sectarianism that has fed them for decades since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power in 1979.
We should also be wary of any declarations of victory, whether from Hezbollah or even Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who declared ISIS was defeated in Iraq. The last person who gave a grandiose “Mission Accomplished” speech was former US President George W. Bush, who prematurely declared on May 1, 2003, that his country’s mission to impose an American brand of democracy on Iraq had been accomplished.
We all know how that turned out and, almost 15 years on, the Iraqis have seen very little democracy, very little peace and almost no security to speak of. Iraq is no longer a functioning, sovereign state but is more akin to a cake being gobbled up by competing powers.
However, the lion’s share of this rich Iraqi dessert has been consumed by Tehran and its terrorist proxies such as Hezbollah and that will have dire regional ramifications for everyone, not just Iraqis.