The stakes for Iraqis in the US-Iran showdown

At this sensitive stage, the real winner would be the one who stands by the security and protection of his homeland first and not by a third party.
Sunday 26/05/2019
Fragile stability. Iraqi President Braham Saleh (R) meets with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Baghdad, May 8. (AFP)
Fragile stability. Iraqi President Braham Saleh (R) meets with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Baghdad, May 8. (AFP)

No one in the Middle East wants a war between the United States and Iran, nor does any Iraqi want his homeland to be a battlefield. Iraq’s war wounds are fresh, especially those from the war with Iran. The latter’s objective was to occupy Iraq and it got what it wanted almost for free after the US-led occupation of Iraq in 2003.

It is no longer a secret that there was close coordination between Tehran and Washington before the invasion as testified by former US Ambassador to Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad. US President Donald Trump has often criticised his predecessors for handing over Iraq to Iran by supporting former Shia dissidents and giving them power in Baghdad after fragmenting Iraq and its army.

US officials were aware of the modest political capabilities of those in the new administration in Iraq, yet they excluded the participation of non-sectarian Sunni Arab political elites opposed to Saddam Hussein.

They were also aware that most of the Shia leaders were loyal to Tehran, especially the Dawa Party. That party has been allowed to rule Iraq for 13 years and all it has to show for that are total failure, corruption, looting of the country’s wealth, chaos, the tyranny and cruelty of sectarian injustice and the invasion by the Islamic State.

Iraqi citizens cannot believe the news of another deployment of US naval forces in the Gulf and the possibility of a war between the United States and Iran.

Those who know the leadership of Iran’s mullahs, however, point out that what had happened was that the United States was once again the victim of deception by Tehran.

In fact, Tehran had hidden its intentions to monopolise Iraq and its political and economic capabilities for itself to the point that it was harming the United States’ higher interests. Through the multitude of its agents and armies of competing loyalists in Iraq, Iran has dominated Iraq and de facto confiscated the billions of dollars’ in US investments in Iraqi infrastructure and security, military, political, economic, cultural and media instruments that Iran used as weapons directed at Washington.

At the same time, Tehran was under the illusion that methods for preserving its gains in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq would be through opening an ideological confrontation with the United States and Israel, based on the theory of exporting its revolution.

Iran would keep this confrontation alive through its agents and proxies with total disregard for the welfare and security of local populations that are offered as sacrificial lambs at the altar of and to the glory of the doctrine of velayat-e faqih.

The reality, however, says this ideological marketing of the conflict against America and Israel is a big lie.

For example, former Iranian Defence Minister Mohammad Forouzandeh had said that “there is no ideological animosity between Iran and Israel and all that there is in this furore is the fact there is no acceptance of any regional military superiority in the Middle East beyond the military superiority of Israel, be it Iranian or otherwise.”

In the game of alleged ideological war, Tehran is suggesting that it is the leader of the camp opposed to global arrogance and some of its foolish supporters have bought it.

In reality, Tehran is secretly begging its agents in Iraq and the region to mediate on its behalf with Washington to the extent that the Baghdad government has believed that it could play the role of mediator and sent officials to Washington to carry out this task.

At the same time, the Iranian Supreme National Security Council scolded the head of the National Security Committee in the Iranian parliament, Hishmatullah Falahat Bisha, because he had called for US-Iranian negotiations in Qatar or Baghdad. Such a statement and reaction reveal that the Iranian regime is desperately clinging to the smallest straw to save itself but doesn’t want anyone to know it.

Iran has crossed all common sense lines of behaving like a normal state bound to respect the sovereignty of other states and its game of war and expansion by proxy is no longer acceptable.

The Gulf countries have a vested interest in protecting their national security, which is being directly threatened and they have the right to choose the steps to secure the interests of their people. Iraq, in particular, is exposed to serious risks because of this bias towards Tehran.

Iran’s game is to forcibly extract from the United States recognition of Iranian power in the region. It is trying to do that by pursuing two tracks. The first is the nuclear agreement from which Trump withdrew. The second is to rely on its agents to build military logistic points inside Iraq. This strategy was exposed in Syria by Israeli strikes on Iranian targets without an Iranian response.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo showed Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi documented evidence proving the installation of sites for medium-range missiles and held him responsible for handling and monitoring the pro-Iranian militias in Iraq and preventing them from embarking on any misguided adventure.

Pompeo told Abdul-Mahdi that he does not expect any bias from his government in favour of Washington but also said the Iraqi government should observe neutrality — in other words not to be biased towards Tehran, either.

No one doubts that Israel would jump on any conflict to strike at sites in Iraq that it deems a threat to its security.

Dismissing the diplomatic positions of the Iraqi presidency and the Iraqi government, which call for a “positive dialogue” to resolve the crisis, the real issue is finding out the extent of the bias on the side of Iraq’s national interests by armed factions loyal to Tehran.

Will they abandon their loyalty to the Iranian regime and refuse to execute its military and logistical requests when things turn sour? Let’s hope so, because, by all legitimate Iraqi nationalist standards and Shia ideological standards, it is not permissible for Iraqis to become tools for others in a war that is not theirs.

Is it not this position of independence that will spare Iraq new disasters? It’s a perfectly natural position and easy to apply. Those pro-Iran armed militias must obey the positions of the government of Iraq and this government has declared its neutrality in conflicts between foreign parties.

Besides, we don’t know why these dogmatic entities do not obey instructions and guidance of the global Shia authority in Ali al-Sistani, who asked his followers and Iraqi politicians to stay out of any bias towards either the US or the Iranian side. I guess they only hear the voices of their masters in Qom and Tehran. Aren’t the Shia authorities of Najaf closer to the Iraqis than others?

With all due respect to all religious doctrines and their followers, do any of them call for burning one’s homeland, which should be the number one target of any loyalty and is the main source of all material and power blessings that have touched these dogmatic politicians?

At this sensitive stage, the real winner would be the one who stands by the security and protection of his homeland first and not by a third party. This is not an option or an effort, it is a national commitment.