Only an independent Iraq can bottle Iran up
Every US president since Jimmy Carter has had nothing but bad words for the Iranian leadership since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrew the shah in 1979. For 40 years, we have heard American administrations talk about the threat Iran poses to regional and global stability and how that menace must be stopped. That is an assessment that very few who truly study the modern Middle East would disagree with.
However, as with US President Donald Trump’s and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s tweeted remarks on the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution, it is not just the theocratic regime that has provided nothing but 40 years of failure. The United States itself has failed to deal with a threat that has bothered it far longer than, say, former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ever did.
That is why it comes as rather disappointing when Trump announced that US troops would remain in the Ayn al-Asad Airbase near Ramadi in western Iraq “to watch Iran.” Not only is the base as far from the Iraqi-Iranian border as can be when measuring Iraq east to west but it will also do nothing to prevent Iranian activities.
What exactly does the United States need to “watch” any more than what the entire world has already seen?
Iran-backed militias roam Iraq at will and extort, exploit and kill people. Their political arms control key ministries supported by the United States and financed directly by the Iraqi budget in a political patronage system that makes any notion of democracy in Iraq laughable.
Through Iran’s control over Iraq and influence over most of its affairs, Tehran has moved men, money and arms into neighbouring Syria and beyond. Iraqi Shia jihadists, bolstered by their Afghan and Pakistani counterparts in the so-called Fatemiyoun brigades and other radical Shia militant formations, have participated in Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ operations across Syria.
Long before Russia directly intervened on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s side, arguably the regime would have fallen were it not for Iranian power projection moving through its colonised Iraqi hub.
Despite that, the United States is proposing to sit at an airbase and “watch.”
This smacks of a lack of seriousness on the part of Washington that for four decades has not managed to effect regime change or even moderation on a supposed sworn enemy who has targeted and killed US soldiers and civilians as well as causing untold damage to regional allies.
Let us not forget that under both former US President Barack Obama and Trump, the United States provided close air support to a host of pro-Iran Shia jihadists fighting under the umbrella organisation of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, responsible for some of the most horrific sectarian war crimes seen in generations.
The fight against the Islamic State is undoubtedly important but what is the point of empowering one set of jihadists to fight another?
If the United States was serious about dealing with Iranian ambitions, then it might have empowered and facilitated a truly sovereign government born of a national movement built around the common values and shared culture and identity that Iraqis feel across the ethno-sectarian divide.
During the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, Turkmens and even Yazidis fought together against the Khomeinist threat for eight years. They did so not for Ba’athism, as such a flawed ideology would not have held people stand firmly together in a conventional conflict for almost a decade. They did it for Iraq and because they felt they were Iraqis.
Only a revival of such a national spirit can break Iran’s control over Iraq and begin the process of bottling up the mullah regime within its own borders.