Iran-US spat likely to have adverse effect on Iraq

Sunday 23/07/2017
angerous games. Members of the Iranian Basij paramilitary force re-enact the January 2016 capture of US sailors by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in the Persian Gulf, last February. (AP)

London- Iran’s spat with the United States is likely to cast its shadow on Iraq, a country that has effec­tively been under Tehran’s in­fluence since the US-led inva­sion in 2003.

The Iranian parliament passed a motion calling for an increase of funds for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ al-Quds Force, which is tasked with Tehran’s military in­terventions outside Iran’s borders, and for the country’s missile pro­gramme.

Al-Quds Force, led by Major-Gen­eral Qassem Soleimani, has a pres­ence in several countries in the re­gion, notably Iraq and Syria.

The motion offered an additional $260 million to al-Quds Force and the same amount to the develop­ment of the missile programme “to confront terrorist and adventurist actions by the United States in the region.”

The move came as a response to new, non-nuclear related US sanc­tions against Tehran over its bal­listic missile programme and over what the US State Department said was “Iran’s malign activities across the Middle East which undermine regional stability, security, and pros­perity.”

The US Department of Defence previously expressed concern over reported manoeuvres by Iranian vessels around US warships in the Gulf.

“These sanctions target procure­ment of advanced military hard­ware, such as fast attack boats and unmanned aerial vehicles, and send a strong signal that the United States cannot and will not tolerate Iran’s provocative and destabilising be­haviour,” said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Iran’s parliament Speaker Ali Lari­jani said his country would “resist [the United States] with all its pow­er” and Iranian President Hassan Ro­hani said Tehran would “stand up to the United States.”

Iran imposed reciprocal sanctions on several US companies and indi­viduals but the measures are pre­dominately symbolic. By “resisting” or “standing up” to Washington, Tehran mostly likely means it will try to consolidate its influence in the region.

Unlike in Syria — where the United States, Iran and other international, as well as regional, actors are com­peting for greater areas of influence by backing rival Syrian sides — the Iraqi government is supported by both Washington and Tehran.

In the apparent US-Iranian race towards winning Iraq, however, the United States is viewed as having lost Baghdad.

“Iran’s influence in Iraq is not just ascendant but diverse, projecting into military, political, economic and cultural affairs,” wrote Tim Arango in an article in the New York Times, detailing the level of dominance that Tehran has in Baghdad.

While successive US administra­tions have had different stated poli­cies towards Iraq since 2003, many Iraqis saw them as leading to the same outcome: Handing over effec­tive control of Iraq to Iran.

The Iranians and their clients in Iraq have sought to present any Iraqi who wishes to break from Tehran’s orbit as part of a US — or even Zionist — conspiracy to control Iraq.

Even the apparent attempt by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Ab­adi to shake off Iranian influence over his country — which includes parliament, government, busi­nesses, the media, the military and militias — was portrayed as siding with the Americans.

It is not uncommon to read in Iraqi media outlets that the United States was supporting the Islamic State (ISIS) inside Iraq, and Iran was the only side that is helping the Iraqi government fight the militants.

There were instances in which the US military presence in the cam­paign to dislodge ISIS from Mosul was viewed as an American attempt to save the militants.

While Iran undoubtedly helped Iraq with weapons and training in its fight against ISIS, Tehran’s aid was inflated while its policies that helped the militants received no mention.

Such policies not only helped en­sure a spike in sectarianism in Iraq but it must be remembered that when Iraq’s armed forces fled Mo­sul in the face of ISIS’s advance, the commander-in-chief of those forces and the prime minister at the time was Nuri al-Maliki.

Maliki is one of the country’s vice-presidents and enjoys the strong backing of Iran, making him a threat to Abadi, even though both hail from the pro-Tehran Dawa Party.

Demonising any independent streak, no matter how weak, as be­ing pro-American is expected to con­tinue to help Iran maintain its influ­ence in Iraq.