Iran might still be able to manoeuvre in Iraq but its expansionist project is doomed

When talking about Iraq’s future, there is a nagging question: Will it be possible to put Iraq back together?
Sunday 16/09/2018
A woman holds an Iraqi flag while chanting slogans during a protest in Basra, on September 6.(AP)
Strong message. A woman holds an Iraqi flag while chanting slogans during a protest in Basra, on September 6.(AP)

Do the events in Basra mark the beginning of recapturing the balance of power in Iraq or another step in confusing the situation, particularly after Muqtada al-Sadr called on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to resign?

First, let’s go further back in history. The borders between Iraq and Iran were not just territorial limits between two neighbouring countries; they were, as former French President Francois Mitterrand called them in the 1980s, “borders between two civilisations.” For more than 500 years, they marked the balance of power in the region between the Arabs and the Persians.

Mitterrand made his remark when war broke out between Iraq and Iran. That war raged for eight years and France played a crucial role in preventing the Iranians from breaking through the border with Iraq. The French Navy loaned the Iraqis six Super Etendard fighter aircraft and equipped them with Exocet missiles. Thanks to this support, the Iranians failed.

The city of Basra, however, had always been Iran’s target, given that it had a majority Shia population, even though it had a strong and powerful Sunni presence.

Thanks to the US-led invasion, Iran achieved in 2003 what it had failed to do from 1980-88. During the next 15 years, the Iranians and their Iraqi proxies endeavoured to transform the demographics of Basra. They flooded it with drugs and turned it into something like a very poor Iranian suburb. Iran’s sectarian militias roamed the city to kick out the Christian minority.

Events in Basra, however, indicate that its original inhabitants’ fighting spirit is strong. Regardless of the call by the Saairun Movement on Abadi to resign, Basra inhabitants sent a strong message by burning the Iranian consulate and the headquarters of the pro-Iranian parties in the city. Basrans wanted to send a message that they’d had enough of authorities’ negligence and enough of the corruption spread by the sectarian militias.

Since 2003, Iran has been trying to control Iraq by any means, directly and indirectly. Iran has been treating Iraq as a prize of war. It made significant inroads in several areas but its goal of turning Iraq into a satellite country is about to crash.

Iran took full advantage of its participation in the United States’ campaign against Iraq. It was an integral part of that campaign and offered the Americans full cooperation before and after the war.

Iran was interested only in taking revenge on Iraq and the Iraqis and US President George W. Bush gave it the chance to that. Immediately after entering Iraq, Iran’s militias executed most of the Iraqi officers and pilots who had participated in the 1980-88 war. It was like making up for Tehran’s failure in the war.

Both Saddam Hussein and Bush failed to be far-sighted. When Saddam invaded Kuwait, he was naive about what the reaction of the rest of the world would be and Iraq paid the price of ultimately falling into Iran’s clutches. When Bush received his “divine inspiration” to invade Iraq, he prepared nothing for the post-invasion. That naivety handed the country to its arch-enemy, Iran.

It’s too early to conclude that the biggest loser in Basra is Iran. One day after Basra’s inhabitants shouted “Iran out” in the streets, Iran’s proxy militias paraded down those same streets. This means Iran has trump cards to play.

One cannot deny that Iran displayed excellent manoeuvring skills, including masterfully playing the Obama administration with its nuclear programme deal. The American administration simply closed its eyes on Iran’s expansionist project and its divisive actions in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Unfortunately, when talking about Iraq’s future, there is a nagging question: Will it be possible to put Iraq back together? The task seems impossible but consider how things will evolve inside Iran and how the United States will react.

There is reason to remain somewhat optimistic in that Iran’s failure is internal and economic. As for the Americans, regardless of US President Donald Trump’s own troubles, there seems to be a core team seriously trying to end Iran’s expansionist project out of conviction of the dangers it represents.

The Americans seem to have realised that the purpose of the Iranian project is to spread extremism, misery, destruction and disintegration of the societies in the region and beyond. The proof of that is the outcome of 15 years of Iran’s domination of Iraq, the country that not long ago was the impenetrable barrier between the Gulf and the Middle East and the Iranian virus.