Iran-US spat likely to have adverse effect on Iraq
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.