Keeping Iraq off the regional fire

Tehran cannot manoeuvre or negotiate. It has no deterrent power and cannot bear the sanctions against it for long.
Sunday 02/06/2019
Iraqi followers of Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr wave national flags and raise protest signs as they demonstrate in the capital Baghdad's central Tahrir Square late on May 24, 2019. (AFP)
Iraqi followers of Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr wave national flags and raise protest signs as they demonstrate in the capital Baghdad's central Tahrir Square late on May 24, 2019. (AFP)

A plethora of Iraqi official and popular voices have been calling for restraint and the avoidance of armed conflict between Washington and Tehran because Iraq, by virtue of its location, would be the battlefield if it happens.

High-level and sovereign decision making in Iraq is not the product of one single source. Various parties and political forces have contrasting positions but those dominating the government and loyal to Iran dither when taking positions until they get Tehran’s approval.

Tehran trusts that its strongest chips against Washington are its vassals in the Iraqi power structure and in Lebanon and Yemen, whom it uses as pawns in its grandstanding game of muscle flexing and subversive sabotage. This treasure of “reigning over Iraq” was gifted by the United States to those who claim enmity towards Uncle Sam, an enmity that requires much evidence to be credible.

At this critical stage, Tehran has asked its allies to gear their media cadences towards the United States under the slogan of “rejecting the war.” This was the line of conduct of factions in the al-Fath bloc, which is headed by Hadi al-Amiri.

Amiri commented on firing of a rocket into the vicinity of the US Embassy in Baghdad by saying: “Whoever is trying to ignite war from Iraq is either ignorant or an agent.”

Muqtada al-Sadr insists on his populist positions. “War between Iran and America will spell the end of Iraq,” he said. “Any party trying to drag Iraq in this war and transform it into a battleground is an enemy of the Iraqi people.”

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was clearer in his support of Iran. He rejected neutrality because “the language of neutrality is no longer acceptable. Our position rejects the party that wants neutrality.”

“If war takes place, we will side with Iran against America,” officials from the Popular Mobilisation Forces said.

Statements by Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari during a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Baghdad were even more remarkable. He clearly announced that his government stands by Iran.

All Shia forces in Iraq support the Iranian regime in the media. Some of those proclaiming the banner of the “Shia Islamic Resistance” do not hesitate to provoke US forces and interests in Iraq. The message of the rocket fired near the US Embassy in Baghdad is proof of this.

However, the three Iraqi presidencies agree on the need to spare the country the dangers of war through a policy they dubbed “appeasement,” which did not reach the level of mediation because they are aware of their size in the eyes of Washington.

It is perhaps ironic that, even in this diplomatic playing field that is supposed to be under the exclusive conduct of the prime minister and the foreign ministry, media calls by pro-Iranian members of parliament demanded they be represented in mediation delegations.

Iraqi President Barham Salih initiated external diplomatic activity as head of state. Such activities may be well-intentioned but are a propagandistic attempt by the ruling classes to give the impression that Iraq can be engaged in political projects beyond its borders.

The purpose of stoking fear of US military strikes against Iran is not to the benefit of Iraq. The war, if it happens, would necessarily be limited. This fear mongering is an illusionary trick by Iran seeking to alter parameters of the conflict with Washington by exaggerating the role of its proxies, just like Iranian military forces exaggerated when they said they were capable of destroying US Navy ships in the Gulf.

The reading of the reality of tensions does not indicate the outbreak of a large-scale war that would involve Iraq and the region. No one expects such an initiative from US President Donald Trump. What is expected after any provocation could be surgical US strikes against selected Iranian targets.

In this case, what has Iraq got to do with the whole thing, unless Iranian fingers inside Iraq target US forces and bases?

The problem then resides in the Iraqi political reality that enabled factions loyal to Iran to play roles in support of the Iranian military effort and to keep silent about such roles.

In 1998, the United States, under President Bill Clinton, launched a large missile campaign against Iraq, citing the government’s lack of cooperation with the weapons inspection committees for the reason for the attack.

Hundreds of Tomahawk missiles, fired from warships in the Red Sea, landed on Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. US forces did not need to enter the Gulf, as they have done now. The rocket strikes killed dozens of people and destroyed important strategic locations in Baghdad.

Russia and other friends of Iraq did not lift a finger in Iraq’s aid. The Iranian regime did not stand by Iraq, either. On the contrary, it was pleased with the outcome. None of the Iranian political forces dared to call for standing by Iraq against the United States.

If today Washington decides to respond to Iranian provocations with targeted strikes, what is Iraq’s business with that? Why should Iraq be dragged into this conflict?

Shoving Iraq in the conflict is premeditated and intended to confuse the situation at political and logistical levels.

Despite its claims of “divine” capabilities, Iran is incapable of standing up to American power. It is in an embarrassing corner and hopes Washington will remove some of its restrictions.

Tehran cannot manoeuvre or negotiate. It has no deterrent power and cannot bear the sanctions against it for long. Therefore, it instructed its allies to exaggerate the state of war and its risks to the region. To support its claims, it provided examples of those risks through sabotage operations in the waters of the United Arab Emirates and in Saudi Arabia.

There is still a question to be directed at the Iraqi political class: Instead of calls against the war, why don’t you reach an independent Iraqi position distancing Iraq from the conflict and keeping the fire out of Iraq?

7