Iran fighting for the survival of its regime and that of regional proxies
Iran will find it very hard to let go of Iraq, especially considering its policies’ setbacks at every level, including inside Iran itself.
With the exception perhaps of Iraq, Iran has lost practically all its bargaining chips with the “Great Satan,” especially after it found it very difficult to change the demographic makeup and sectarian map in Syria. Its efforts to concentrate the Shia population in specific areas, including Raqqa and the outskirts of Aleppo, started with Bashar Assad’s accession to power in 2000.
The Iranian mind suffers from the disease of believing that the Islamic Republic can play a dominant role at the regional level. Iran couldn’t get rid of the illusion of its regional hegemony until it began clashing with reality.
This reality means that Iran is at the mercy of the United States and its sanctions. This is why Iranian tools and proxies are demanding the lifting of the sanctions, which seem to have affected Iran and its economy much more than expected.
It was remarkable to note Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s call on the United States to “lift its sanctions on Iran” if it really wants to help Iran deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic revealed — once more — that the Islamic Republic established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is but a third-world country, at best.
The problem with the Islamic Republic is that it refuses to learn from experiences of other countries, especially the former Soviet Union, which wanted to be — and thought itself — a superpower but, because of its weak economy, ended up disintegrating.
Iraq will remain Iraq and Iran will remain Iran but until the Islamic Republic comes to that inevitable conclusion, it will fight a long war of attrition with the United States, which Tehran wants to kick out of Iraq. Although possible, even if US President Donald Trump loses the November elections, this is highly unlikely.
Iran’s war of attrition in Iraq is expected on several fronts. On the political front, Iranian political tools and affiliates in Iraq objected to Iraqi President Barham Salih’s appointment of Adnan al-Zurfi to form a new cabinet.
What else could have been expected of Salih? He had to use his constitutional prerogatives to deal with the power vacuum at the executive branch since the forced resignation of Adel Abdul-Mahdi and Mohammed Allawi’s failure to get the parliament’s endorsement.
This failure has affected its proxies in Iraq, such as Muqtada al-Sadr, who suddenly tried to play the role of referee for all political forces in Iraq but his group ended up splitting. This was shown by its strange behaviour in the Iraqi street and the way it deals with Shia citizens protesting corruption and Iranian practices in Iraq.
It is no secret that Zurfi, whose reputation and record were being questioned by many, is said to belong to the current led by former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whom Iran was adamant on excluding from power following the May 2018 elections. Iran wanted to punish Abadi for refusing to become another Nuri al-Maliki. Abdul-Mahdi had accepted Iran’s dictates but wanted to moderate his positions until he was toppled by the October popular uprising.
Concomitant with Salih’s designation of Zurfi as prime minister-designate, there was a series of Katyusha rocket attacks by pro-Iran Iraqi militias on US targets in and around Baghdad. Such attacks have become a new Iranian tactic in Iraq, which is part of its war of attrition against the American presence in Iraq.
The US response has been limited to one counterattack on one militia’s positions in Iraq but the reaction indicated that the Americans knew exactly who stood behind the rocket attacks.
The United States has made countless mistakes in Iraq, especially since it handed it to Iran and its Iraqi militias in 2003. Still, there has been a major change of heart on the part of the United States that has culminated with the twin assassinations of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, commander of al-Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the pro-Iran Popular Mobilisation Forces in Iraq.
The event represented a turning point in Iraqi internal affairs and throughout the region. Zurfi’s success in trying to form a cabinet approved by the Iraqi parliament would be a translation of the transformation that began with Soleimani’s death.
There is likely to be fierce Iranian resistance to a government led by Zurfi. This resistance would include more strikes targeting US forces in Iraq. The Trump administration would have no choice but to respond aggressively in Iraq and even perhaps inside Iran.
There is no secret now that Iran is fighting for its survival in Iraq and in the region and for the survival of its regime in Iran.
Iran can only end up leaving Iraq defeated for at least two reasons. First, it is rejected by Iraqis and by most Shias in Iraq. The second reason is that the current regime is defeated inside Iran itself.
This regime has nothing to offer to any country outside its borders other than sectarian militias that spread misery and underdevelopment wherever it is established. Lebanon and Syria remain the best illustrations of this simple truth.
Inside Iran, the regime has nothing to offer its citizens. After the US sanctions, the coronavirus epidemic confirmed there is no such thing as an Iranian model. The artificial legend of an Iranian resistance is explained by the refusal of successive US administrations to use the big-stick policy against the Iranian regime, that is until the arrival of the Trump administration.
This administration seems to have an ideologically motivated stance against the Iranian regime, coupled with a clear desire on the part of the US military and security establishment to reopen files and settle old scores, starting with the historic detention that began in November 1979 of US diplomats for 444 days.