Iraq should not be the place to show loyalty for Iran

Iran believes that its protective belt of proxies cannot be complete without Iraq and that Trump’s America does not wish to drag Iraq in its war games with Iran.
Friday 06/09/2019
Dark prospects. A member of Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) walks past a poster of PMF members in Baghdad, July 2. (Reuters)
Dark prospects. A member of Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) walks past a poster of PMF members in Baghdad, July 2. (Reuters)

Those who are keen to stop the deterioration in Iraq are calling for breaking off — or at least easing — communication between Iraq and Iran. This is especially so now that the country has entered the danger zone of being the arena for a new type of war, that of remote warfare, such as the attacks on Popular Mobilisation Forces camps.

The seemingly unstoppable attacks are similar to Israeli attacks on Iranian weapons sites in Syria that neither the Syrian and Iranian regimes nor the Lebanese Hezbollah dare respond to. Some Shia leaders have declared bombings are going to continue and perhaps move to a phase of assassinations targeting leaders of parties or of armed factions.

Nobody knows the source of the military power with which former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki threatened Israel, while waiting for evidence from Israel that it was behind the attacks, even though the deputy leader of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, accused both Israel and the United States of being behind the attacks.

The public calls for responding to Israeli attacks do not go beyond expressing token political loyalty to Iran. All Iraqi politicians, as well as the Iranian regime, know that Iraq does not have the means to get involved in a military confrontation with Israel.

The country is in a quagmire of its own internal problems and its politicians have nothing to do with the project of fighting Israel that exists only in Tehran’s street banners and loudspeakers.

What need to be understood is that all this media and political flurry against the United States after the explosions in PMF camps was caused by the Iranian regime’s sense of distress because of trade sanctions against it. Its desire to negotiate with Washington clashes with US requirements that Iran abandon its ballistic missile programmes and subversive policies in the region.

As usual, the regime in Tehran is blinded by its arrogance into thinking that it can place Iraq in the line of fire while it comfortably remains entrenched in the rear lines.

The Iranian regime does not care one bit about the deterioration of Iraq’s dire situation. Except for a small group of pro-Iranian forces entrenched in the circles of political power in Iraq, the Iraqi people, sects and minorities included, do not support the government’s official bias in favour of Iran.

The new situation also means opening the gates of sectarian and political strife in Iraq at a time when the country urgently needs some kind of political, security and economic stability, broad development and social peace rather than militarisation and war slogans. The Iraqis certainly need not be in the same situation as the Iranian people.

Although the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, along with the leaders of parliament and the country, is aware of the dangers of being dragged to the conflict between Tehran and Washington, it cannot afford to clash with the forces loyal to Tehran, despite having the constitution on its side.

The Iraqi government is under tremendous pressure from Tehran to turn Iraq into an arena for demonstrating “loyalty” to Iran. It was in this framework that the Shia cleric in Qom, Kazim al-Ha’iri, issued a fatwa calling on all Iraqis to fight the Americans and expel them from Iraq. This call did not come from the Shia religious authority in Iraq and this is where Iraq’s real dilemma lies.

This dilemma cannot be resolved until Iraq officially and openly declares that there are regime and state institutions in Iraq that are responsible for ensuring the country’s internal and external security and those religious clerics have no right to exercise the functions of the state. In case those forces calling for the expulsion of the Americans pass a motion of that kind in parliament, it would not be easy to implement and it would plunge the country into severe political conflicts, inside and outside.

What such a motion means is the cancellation of the Iraqi-US strategic agreement and the departure of US forces from Iraqi soil but no one believes that the Trump administration is concerned about this or interested in it.

The first victim of playing these games will be Iraq. The country risks plunging into a new phase of dark prospects. The United States will give up its commitment to protect Iraq and break the strategic relationship that has for long protected the regime in Baghdad.

The country could then be turned into an island of oil that is politically and militarily annexed to Iran. This is not surprising since Iran believes that its protective belt of proxies cannot be complete without Iraq and that Trump’s America does not wish to drag Iraq in its war games with Iran, because Iraq is not Syria.

Trump’s desire is to keep Iraq out of Iran’s influence but, if Washington cannot do that, the only loser is going to be Iraq, which will remain alone on a dark and endless path.