Iran’s stratagems are doomed in Iraq

Iraq’s Kurdish president and its Arab Shia prime minister have proved once again that they are Iraqis first.
Wednesday 31/03/2021
A file picture shows Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces marching and holding flag and posters of Iraqi and Iranian Shia spiritual leaders during “al-Quds” or Jerusalem Day, in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP)
A file picture shows Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces marching and holding flag and posters of Iraqi and Iranian Shia spiritual leaders during “al-Quds” or Jerusalem Day, in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP)

Once again, Tehran is trying to ensure that Iraq will not escape its grasp and return to the days of before the administration of the George W. Bush in 2003 delivered Iraq, one of the most important Arab countries, to Iran on a silver platter.

Tehran paraded its Iraqi militia allies on the streets of Baghdad days ago in order to intimidate senior Iraqi politicians.

It did not work.

The Iranian failure is due to the existence of a strain of Iraqi patriotism that has emerged over time and regained its vitality primarily thanks to the country’s Arab Shia community.

Once again, the Iranian regime is seeking to control Iraq on the grounds that Tehran’s future is in Iraq and not elsewhere.

This explains Iran’s desperation to keep Iraq under its yoke through its sectarian militia allies.

There could not have been a fresh start for Iranian expansionism except through Iraq, where Tehran-backed Iraqi militias came into the picture in the wake of the US invasion and the fall of Baghdad on April 9, 2003.

For the “Islamic Republic”, Iraq remains the ultimate prize about which it has always dreamt  and indeed continues to dream.

The chaos in Iraq enabled Iran to breathe new life into its expansionist project, which was suspended in 1988,  when Ayatollah Khomeini was forced to drink from a “poison cup” and stop the war with Iraq.

The war had ended with a near victory for Iraq. That virtual triumph was costly in terms of men, equipment and money but it allowed Iraq to halt the process of “exporting the Iranian revolution.”

Iran wanted to invade Iraq on the grounds that it was an easy target. During the eight-year war, it became clear that the fall of Iraq was not as simple as the new Iranian regime imagined when it came to power after the fall of the Shah.

Above all, it became obvious over time that the regime in Iran did not actually know much about Iraq. It could have learnt from all the mistakes committed by Saddam Hussein’s government with its rural mindset and modest Baathist culture. The Saddam regime’s essentially simplistic culture prevented it  from grasping international and regional realities.

What the regime in Iran cannot fathom is what is really at stake in Iraq. It does not realise that the situation is far more complicated than it imagines despite its cunning, sophistication and knowledge of how to invest in sectarian instincts.

The Tehran regime does not have a viable model to offer its neighbours and beyond.

In 2021, Iran refuses to admit that Iraq is Iraq and Iran is Iran and that the border between the two countries is there to stay. The armed parade held on the streets of Baghdad a few days ago by elements belonging to the so-called “Raba’a Allah” (Quarter of God)  was simply an Iranian-inspired move aimed at preventing Iraq from being in control of its destiny.

There are two objectives behind the protest, which has been condemned even by a politically-motivated cleric such as Muqtada al-Sadr.

The first goal is to force Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to release about 100 detainees belonging to militias who were arrested by Iraqi security on suspicion of being involved in attacks on American and other targets.

The second goal has to do with the Iranian desire to keep Iraq isolated from the Arab world and prevent it from hosting a tripartite summit that will soon bring together Kadhimi, President Abdel Fattah Sisi and the Jordanian monarch, King Abdullah II.

It is no longer acceptable for Iran that Baghdad should be a capital where Arab summits are held.

Iraq is supposed to follow the line drawn for it by Tehran.

This is what the Iraqi prime minister rejected when he sent a clear message to Tehran that he refuses to yield to the demands of a sectarian militia and to confine himself to executing the orders of the Iranian “guide” Ali Khamenei.

It is no secret that the Iraqi President Barham Salih and the prime minister are not hostile to Iran. However, the Kurdish president and the Arab Shia prime minister have proved once again that they are Iraqis first. They see that they must strive to meet the demands of the Iraqis and respond to their aspirations in a country where governance needs to be completely reset in light of the failures  it has endured since 2003.

What the successive experiences since the fall of Saddam reveal is that Iraqis have not lost the hope that their country will regain its sovereignty,

Salih and Khadhimi are striving to establish a new Iraq that is not merely a vassal of Iran, while at the same time not actually being a foe either.

What is certain is that there are many internal factors and many complications working against the rehabilitation of Iraq as it continues to open up to the Arab Gulf states.

These overtures were demonstrated by the recent call between Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Kadhimi and the invitation that the Saudi monarch gave to the Iraqi prime minister to visit Riyadh.

It is clear that Iraq is targeted by Iran.

It is even more evident that the “Islamic Republic” seeks to isolate Iraq from the Arab world and prevent it from pursuing a strategic dialogue with the US administration.

What is not clear is why Iran is wagering that it can rule Iraq through its militias and that the “Mobilisation Forces” in Iraq can play the role of the “Revolutionary Guards” in the “Islamic Republic”.

Iraq is a prey that Iran cannot swallow.

In light of Iraq’s success in proving that it is heading toward becoming a normal country again, the question in the foreseeable future is whether there is a way to make Iran realise that it must take care of its internal problems first.

Iraq has proven that it seeks to be a normal country.

It received Pope Francis three weeks ago. The head of the Catholic Church visited different Iraqi regions.

His visit confirmed that Iraqi society, in spite of all the internal traumas and divisions it has suffered since the ill-fated military coup of 14 July 1958, still retains many civilised characteristics.

Iran should try to benefit from the cultural remnants of Iraqi society instead of working to eliminate them through its militias and the ideology they bear.

Such a policy may serve the regime much better than its pursuit of hegemony over Iraq.

Does it want Iran to be a normal country, or not, and is it within its power to decide? ​

Or does it think that there is no future for its own regime if it stops playing adventurist games outside its borders … with Iraq as its first destination.