Iranian myths that the Iraqis dispelled
It’s been 13 years since the fall of Saddam Hussein and Iran has yet to win the loyalty of the Iraqi people, especially the Arab Shias whose majority resisted and continue to resist with their bare chests Iranian influence in Iraq.
Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Iran has wanted to export its revolution to Iraq. Iraq was Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s first target, giving rise to the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, which, despite its absurdity and heavy losses, prevented the collapse of the “borderline between two civilisations,” to quote former French President Francois Mitterrand, who supported Iraq militarily in that war.
For centuries, the Iraqi-Iranian border has been a symbol of the existing balance in the region, a balance that collapsed after 2003 by the United States’ will.
Iran’s failure to control Iraq militarily from 1980-88 did not stop it from continuing to try to do so using a strategy derived from the theory that the sectarian affiliation is stronger than and supersedes the nationalistic bond. Khomeini and his successor, Ali Khamenei, were firm believers in this theory and convinced that the sectarian link alone would be enough to turn Iraq into an Iranian protectorate. The post-1979 religious establishment in Iran did not want to accept that the first Shia reference for Iraqi Shias was in Najaf and not in Qom.
This explanation seems to underlie the burning of the Iranian Consulate in Najaf. The concrete dimension of setting fire to the consulate matches the symbolic dimension of the burning of Iranian illusions that dragged Iraq into the 8-year war and that has been feeding Iranian threats to the Arabian Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia.
During the 1980s, those threats turned the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca into a political event by fomenting demonstrations with slogans that have nothing to do with religion.
What is happening in Iraq is just as important as what is happening inside Iran itself. What is happening in Iraq is the most prominent evidence of the failure and fall of the Iranian project. That project regained its vitality following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and Iran was a partner in that war. The Iraqi people, however, began erasing the consequences of that war more than a year ago.
After all these years, it simply turned out for Iran that its project to control Iraq was not going to be a picnic. This was because of several reasons, primarily that Arabs are Arab and Persians are Persian and that a sectarian connection was far from being sufficient to bring down geopolitical borders between two countries in which everything else separates them.
Above all, it turned out for Iran that Iraq was not willing to live in the shadow of a regime that allowed Iran to have the last say on who becomes prime minister in Iraq and who doesn’t.
The burning of the Iranian Consulate in Najaf revealed the reality of Iran. The Iraqis have undone the aura of prominence that Tehran gave itself. Iran’s expansionist project is not a viable one and it first fell in Iran itself, where the popular revolution continues.
Iran has nothing more to export than sectarian militias but what the Iraqis reject above all is those militias and Iran’s pursuit of a subordinate regime in Iraq where the Popular Mobilisation Forces are acting as a branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is the backbone of the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Iran’s expansionist project started anew from Iraq in 2003 and it is from Iraq that it started to decline. There is no doubt that sanctions imposed by the Trump administration led to unprecedented pressure on Iran and its ability to expand its influence. Pretty soon, Tehran’s boast that it controls four Arab capitals — Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana’a — will be a thing of the past.
In Lebanon, there is a rebellion against the “Hezbollah era,” which means a rebellion against Iranian influence. By comparison, what is going on in Lebanon pales next to what is happening in Iraq.
The Iranian regime is under the impression that it quelled the popular revolution in Iran and that the situation has returned to normal following the most severe repression that the Iranians had undergone to date. It is a false impression. The poor Iranians did not defy the oppressive regime just to go back to their homes as if nothing had happened.
Besides, this regime has nothing to offer them to remedy the economic crisis, except, perhaps, accepting to seriously negotiate with the United States. This time, however, the negotiations will go beyond Iran’s nuclear programme and include its behaviour in the region.
The region will not be the same following the events in Iraq. Iraq will cease to be the biggest prize Iran received from the US-led war in 2003. When economic facts and figures speak, all other languages become mute, including the language of the hollow slogans on Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories. It is, after all, a fact that Israel annexed Jerusalem and Iran did not lift a finger to prevent it.
Events in Iraq raise very simple questions: Is Iran a normal country? Can it reconcile itself with its people before thinking of grabbing Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen?