Iran refuses to recognise new situation in Iraq

Schemes and manoeuvres will not solve the problems of Iran, a country that was rejected in Iraq by the Shias before the Sunnis.
Sunday 17/03/2019
Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi walks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a welcome ceremony in Baghdad, on March 11. (Reuters)
Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi walks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a welcome ceremony in Baghdad, on March 11. (Reuters)

Iraq remains the crown jewel of the Persian Empire, coveted by Iranian rulers since they inherited the shah’s throne in 1979. Evidence for that can be seen in Iranian President Hassan Rohani’s visit to Iraq and his statement that “Iraq is our second home.”

The Iranian president tried to prove that Iran still had a presence in Iraq and that nothing had changed in the last few months, despite the emergence of a primarily Shia popular opposition to Iran. Such a situation is not without repercussions in Iranian domestic affairs.

Iran is discovering that Iraq is Iraq and Iran is Iran; that Arabs are Arabs and Persians are Persians, as simple as that. There is an Iraqi Shia rejection of Iranian hegemony over Iraq. All the sectarian militias set up by Iran in Iraq will not change that rejection despite attempts to legitimise the militias under the label of “popular mobilisation forces.”

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi paid a heavy price after declaring that Iraq’s interests were above any others. In other words, Abadi placed Iraq’s interests above Iranian interests so Iran punished him and prevented him from winning another term as prime minister.

Then Iran replaced Abadi with Adel Abdul-Mahdi through tremendous pressure exerted on various Iraqi parties by Major-General Qassem Soleimani, leader of Iran’s al-Quds Force. This is how Abadi, a Dawa Party member who never forgot that he is a son of Baghdad, became a symbol of the Iraqi Shia resistance to Iran. He therefore had to be disciplined.

On this front, Iran formally succeeded but failed in substance. It wants to convince itself that Iraq is a key card in its battle against US sanctions, whose effects are beginning to bite. This is reflected in the words of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who thanked Iraq in Baghdad for its rejection of US sanctions on Iran, saying that “no force in the world can drive a wedge between the Iraqi and Iranian peoples.”

Zarif’s words, spoken on the eve of Rohani’s arrival in Baghdad, are nothing but an attempt to peddle more illusions. Zarif was really addressing Iranians, exactly as Rohani had done because they both know what an Iranian failure in Iraq could mean and the effect it could have on the Iranian regime.

There is a new reality in Iraq that Iran refuses to recognise. It is true that it has proxy militias there, the so-called Popular Mobilisation Forces that continue to do the job that should have been assigned to official Iraqi forces. However, it is also true that there are real forces in Iraq that stand against Iran’s direct and indirect presence. You have Ammar al-Hakim, Muqtada al-Sadr, Iyad Allawi and Abadi, who are firmly in a different trench than the Iranian trench in Iraq.

If there were some Iranian breakthrough in Iraq, it would have to be the one within the ranks of the Sunnis, who have historically been hostile to Iran.

It is no secret that Iraqi parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi is an associate of Iran but it cannot be ignored that Iran is, generally, facing an Iraqi problem for which Soleimani has failed to find solutions. So the help of two Iranian faces, those of Rohani and Zarif, had to be enlisted.

They, though, are just two masks wearing a smile and nothing more. The two men say pretty words that do not mean anything in the end. This is because Iran has nothing to offer Iraq except further backwardness on every level.

There has been a clear Iraqi failure since 2003. Those who succeeded Saddam Hussein could not bring anything to Iraq or the Iraqis. It is only logical that Iran will not be able to provide any help to Iraq, especially because it is suffering from US sanctions that have proven to be much more serious than originally believed. Even Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has started to complain about the sanctions, which have put Iran in a constant chase of US dollars.

Rohani’s visit to Iraq is just another attempt to escape reality. Indeed, post-shah Iran has failed. It refuses to look itself in the face and compensates by expanding outside its territory. Wherever Iran goes, it brings destruction. There is no need to enumerate what it did in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen or what it could have done in Bahrain or in any other Gulf state.

Fleeing to Iraq and forcing it to implement the 1975 Algiers Agreement will not solve Iran’s problems with its own people and with the US administration. Iran wants to force Iraq to implement this unjust agreement signed by Saddam Hussein and the shah. At the time, the shah abandoned the Kurds, who posed a threat to the Ba’athist regime in Iraq, while Saddam relinquished internationally recognised Iraqi rights in Shatt al-Arab.

These schemes and manoeuvres will not solve the problems of Iran, a country that was rejected in Iraq by the Shias before the Sunnis.

What would solve Iran’s problems is facing reality instead of escaping through delusions. Statistics say that Iran is an underdeveloped third world country whose model is useless to any other country. It has nothing to export but misery, sectarian impulses and militias.

It is certain that Rohani’s Iraq trip will not change anything. What could change things for the better is asking the right questions, such as: Why is it that, 40 years after the “Islamic revolution,” poverty has increased in Iran?