Iranian anger against Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi provides him with a patriotic record. It’s no longer unlikely that Abadi’s political future has become linked to the extent of Iranian influence in Iraq.
Abadi’s stance towards the American sanctions on Iran elevates his worth as there has been a negative view of him because he belongs to the sectarian party, the Islamic Dawa Party, which is considered a Shiite version of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Abadi, who did not reside in Iran while opposing the Saddam Hussein’s regime, took a brave stance when he announced that Iraq will commit to the American sanctions against Iran. He made many reservations about the sanctions and described them as “unjust” and as a “strategic mistake”, but he eventually confirmed that Iraq is committed to implementing them.
It’s not possible to underestimate what the Iraqi prime minister did where Tehran refused to receive him in protest of his announcement that Iraq will implement American sanctions. When Abadi confronts Iran in a sensitive matter like sanctions, he knows well that he’s engaged in a fateful battleKhairallah Khairallah
He thus revealed that he has minimal patriotism and a low desire to protect Iraq’s interests. He, like everyone else, knows that the US may reconcile with the Iranian regime tomorrow. The honeymoon phase, which reigned before the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 or during the eight years when Barack Obama was in the White House, would thus return.
Does Iran have the right to establish the best types of relations with the US while at the same time blackmail it on a daily basis, whether in Syria or Iraq or Lebanon or Yemen, while Iraq cannot ask itself where its interests and its citizens’ interests lie, and work on defending these interests?
If George W. Bush handed over Iraq to Iran on a silver plate, then Obama completed this handover process in an unofficial manner in 2010. Why does Iran have the right to fully coordinate with the Americans, all the way to agreeing over who Iraq’s prime minister will be, but Iraq doesn’t? Is it Iraq’s fate to just be a follower of Iran and sacrifice itself for its sake?
Once again, it turns out that Iraq refuses to completely surrender to Iran. What Abadi did is an expression of the Iraqi desire to resist. He justified his stance via simple statements about the desire “to not subject the Iraqis to harm and protect our people.” He added: “We cannot depart from the international system.”
Following the years he spent in power, Abadi now knows what American sanctions on Iran means and he knows the nature of the American role on the international level. He is perhaps particularly aware of the US’s economic weight as its economy is a quarter of the world’s economy.
It’s not possible to underestimate what the Iraqi prime minister did where Tehran refused to receive him in protest of his announcement that Iraq will implement American sanctions. When Abadi confronts Iran in a sensitive matter like sanctions, he knows well that he’s engaged in a fateful battle.
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The statements issued by Ayatollah Mujtaba Hussaini, the representative of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Iraq, are enough to confirm this. Hussaini, who lives in Najaf, went as far as accusing Abadi of “being involved with America and submissive to its conspiracies on Iran which is Iraq’s neighbor and which is unified with the Iraqi people in religion and stances.”
Attempts to conjoin Iraq and Iran
According to Khamenei’s representative in Iraq, “the Iraqi and Iranian people embody the concept of ‘your flesh is my flesh and your blood is my blood’ and they are one people.” His remarks are a reminder of the statements made by late President Hafez al-Assad during the Syrian tutelage over Lebanon, which stipulated that the Syrian and Lebanese people “are one people in two countries.”
The Iraqi prime minister’s stance gives an idea about the seriousness of the American sanctions on Iran and shows the Trump administration’s obvious desire to go far in implementing them. What’s certain is that the man has special calculations imposed by the difficulties which face his return to the post he’s been occupying since 2014 as successor to Nuri al-Maliki. Maliki is the hero of the scandal pertaining to ISIS’s invasion of Mosul and the Iraqi army’s retreat against this terrorist group in a manner that is reminiscent of Arab defeats in the 1967 War.
The question which will sooner or later surface is how will Iran work on exploiting Iraq to get around the American sanctions which will become harsher in November?
It’s clear that Iran will work on forming a government that supports it in Iraq. It will one way or another work on getting rid of Abadi as soon as possible. If Iran decides to confront, it does not have plenty of options, especially in Iraq. It also does not have plenty of other options other than forming a Lebanese cabinet that’s wrapped around its finger.
This to a great extent explains the fierce attack on Abadi on one hand, and on another, the insistence to prevent the establishment of a “national consensus” government in Lebanon by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, who wants to form this cabinet in a balancing way while taking into consideration Lebanon’s interest in fortifying itself against the major shifts in the region.
In all cases, if Abadi’s stance towards Iran signifies anything, it actually signifies that there is a general popular desire in Iraq to avoid falling into Iran’s complete tutelage. The results of the recent elections held on May 12 reflect this desire. The recent popular activity in Iraqi cities and areas also express some sort of Iraqi awakening, although there are plenty of statements that Iran is not distant from this unrest in Iraq. Those making such statements said there is an Iranian hand in the attempt to halt the product of Iraqi oil in the future in case America prevents it from marketing its own oil.
There is one last question. What is the stance that the American administration will take towards Abadi in particular and towards the Iraqi situation in general? Will it support the current prime minister and push to his return to his post after he proved that’s ready to be an Iraqi patriot although he belongs to a party like the Dawa Party?
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In the next few months, America will be preoccupied with Iran which will as much as possible delay its decision to engage in a dialogue with Washington without preconditions. Iran will in the next few weeks work on testing the extent of seriousness of Trump and his team, primarily of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton. Iran will seek to make the American administration understand that it has plenty of cards in the region, especially in Iraq where there are sectarian militias affiliated with it and which operate under the name of the Popular Mobilization.
What’s certain is that Abadi will be in an unenviable position during the next phase, unless the US decides – even for once – to decisively stand with those who stand by it and show that it’s in fact a party that can be relied on in difficult times and that Iraq remains Iraq and Iran remains Iran. What is Iran’s right is also Iraq’s right, and the relation between Washington and Baghdad does not necessarily pass through Tehran!
This article is also available in Arabic.
Khairallah Khairallah is an Arab columnist who was formerly Annahar’s foreign editor (1976-1988) and Al-Hayat’s managing editor (1988-1998).