Is Iran Losing Ground in Iraq? – World – Al-Ahram Weekly

For nearly two decades, Iran has been consolidating its influence in Iraq, even seizing the neighboring country outright, by exploiting the unrest sparked by the 2003 US-led invasion and the fall of Saddam’s regime.

In making its foray into Iraq, Iran pursued a fundamental political objective: to unite the country’s Shiite groups and help empower the coreligious community by translating their demographic weight into political influence.

In addition to its political presence, the Islamic Republic has also used Iraq as a platform to expand its influence throughout the region and to move forward in building a conducive regional political and security order.

But in order to assess Iran’s current influence in Iraq, its imprint on Iraq’s continuing political stalemate must be considered and how the Islamic Republic is positioning itself, as it always has. , as an influential external intermediary in the formation of post-invasion governments. Iraq.

This month marks the longest post-election stalemate in Iraq, as infighting between Shiite groups in particular has prevented agreement on a new prime minister and hampered efforts to form a new government after October’s parliamentary elections. .

Cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr’s bloc won the most votes in the election, winning some 73 seats out of 329 members of the assembly. But Al-Sadr refused to forge an alliance with rival Shia factions to create a majority bloc that would allow them to form a government as they have done in all previous parliaments.

Meanwhile, Al-Sadr failed to create an alliance with Sunni groups and Kurdish parties in Iraq that would have given him the two-thirds majority required to choose a new president for Iraq, an important step. before the Prime Minister can be appointed.

In a surprise move, Al-Sadr withdrew his bloc from parliament and announced he was quitting talks on forming a government. Instead, he mobilized his supporters, who stormed parliament to prevent his rivals from summoning and endorsing their candidate Mohamed Shayyah Al-Sudani as the new prime minister.

In response, his Shia opponents in the Iran-backed parties known as the Coordination Framework Alliance reiterated their nomination of Al-Sudani and held their own rally in Baghdad on Friday, signaling they were ready. to take the dispute to the streets.

Al-Sadr supporters retaliated on Saturday by storming Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, reoccupying parliament and declaring an indefinite sit-in until a set of demands are met, including the drafting of a new constitution and the dissolution of the Iraqi judicial system which they accuse of bias.

The coordination cadre staged tit-for-tat protests outside the Green Zone in a show of strength and defiance, further escalating the Shia-Shia power struggle.

While the standoff has widened the rift between Shia groups and plunged Iraq into one of its worst crises since 2003, it has also underscored Iran’s diminishing influence over its longtime allies and threatened his influence in the battered country.

Iran has come a long way in consolidating its influence in Iraq as the ties between the two countries have become so intertwined that it would now be impossible to completely separate Iraq and Iran.

Through allied Shiite politicians and paramilitary groups in Iraq, Iran has become the dominant force in the country, extending its influence and role beyond the political and security realms to trade, commerce and cultural ties.

Many Iraqis have been outraged by what they see as an encroachment on their sovereignty by a former enemy that shares a 1,400km border with their country and have accused the Islamic Republic of making Iraq a client state.

The turning point in anti-Iranian sentiment came with the 2019 uprising in Iraq’s predominantly Shia-dominated provinces, which called for an overhaul of the political system established after the collapse of the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein.

Yet the uprising was also about rising Iraqi nationalism, demonstrated by protesters’ demands to end the Islamic Republic’s hegemony in their country and its interference in its domestic politics.

It is hard to imagine the circumstances in which Tehran could have escaped the political impact of overwhelmingly anti-Iranian sentiments and growing protesters’ calls to liberate Iraq from Iranian hegemony.

Even Al-Sadr, who had once sought sanctuary in Iran from threats of American arrest, emerged after the uprising as a nationalist leader resisting Iran’s influence in Iraq.

Iranian leaders and the country’s media were quick to condemn the uprising as a foreign plot and brand the protesters as minions of Iran’s main enemies, the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei even urged Iraqi authorities to “prioritize dealing with riots and instability”, which was widely seen as giving the militias the green light backed by Iran in Iraq to crush protests.

Iran has also turned to online campaigns in Arabic, English and Farsi to discredit Iraqi protesters and portray them as disruptive. Some of the posts appeared with hashtags such as “we will not leave Iraq”, “Iraq and Iran will not be separated” and “Iraq will not be burned”.

However, one of the main consequences of the uprising has been Iran’s waning influence in Iraq, particularly after a US-led drone attack killed Qassem Suleimani in January 2020. He was the Iran’s trusted man in Iraq who worked as a “pivot” to bring together the country’s Shiite forces.

Despite strenuous efforts with Shia groups and other Iraqi factions, Suleimani’s successor, Esmail Qaani, has repeatedly failed to make progress in coordinating Iran’s proxies in the country and in strengthening the Iranian influence in Iraq.

A series of developments since Suleimani’s murder have shown that Iran’s network of influence in Iraq has weakened, largely because Qaani has been unable to fill the gaps left in the absence of his predecessor.

In the last October 2021 elections, the Iran-backed groups that have dominated Iraqi politics since the fall of Saddam lost ground for the first time in years when al-Sadr supporters dominated the poll.

Leaked conversations between Shia leaders have suggested that Iranian-aligned Iraqi Shia groups have asserted a degree of independence from Iran and have even shown signs of disobedience to Tehran at times.

Al-Maliki’s audio recordings leaked last month showed Iraqi Shiite factions’ growing distrust of Iran and their complaints about Iran’s mishandling of internal Shiite division in Iraq and its failure to align groups and resolve disputes between them.

All of these actions and rhetoric raise questions about whether Iran has been pushed into a corner as its mission to take control of Iraq has been challenged by the country’s worst crisis since it took over. got entangled in its western neighbour.

Iran’s activities in Iraq have been under the radar of major Middle Eastern powers, who want to see if the Islamic regime succeeds in taking control of Iraq and turning it into a satellite state under its influence. .

Iran’s regional enemies hoped that a new regime in Baghdad led by a converted Al-Sadr in alliance with Kurds and Sunni Arabs would reduce Tehran’s influence in Iraq and challenge its rule in the region.

But there is still little indication that Iran has “strategically” lost in Iraq or that it is prepared to admit that its influence in the neighboring country is being swept away by “geopolitical winds” or the rise of Iraqi nationalism.

Instead, there are plenty of signs to suggest that Iran still retains huge assets in Iraq, and after a tactical setback caused by Qaani’s weakness, Tehran is once again consolidating its control over key areas of Iraq’s weak policy. Iraq, including the brokering of power.

For many observers, the latest stalemate shows that the pro-Iran camp in Iraq’s Shia community is still powerful enough to outsmart Al-Sadr and even use Iran’s influence to corner the powerful cleric as the government crisis escalates. eternalizes.

Reports that Iran succeeded in convincing the leaders of the autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq to end their dispute over the election of a new president of the country who would then pave the way for the exit of the Government standoff suggest a major victory for Tehran.

That’s why the bet that Iran’s influence in Iraq is waning based on Al-Sadr’s ability to block parliament sessions may be far-fetched or wishful thinking. All that can be assumed, at least for now, is that Iran seems unlikely to change its calculations in Iraq and let its determination to influence politics in the country diminish.

*A version of this article appeared in the August 4, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

Short link:

Comments are closed.