A few months before the assassination of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, during a conference held in Beirut in December 2004 by Lebanese political forces opposing Syria’s presence in Lebanon, Walid Jumblatt launched his famous statement refusing dialogue with Syria through an intelligence officer.
For all the latest headlines follow our Google News channel online or via the app.
Jumblatt was hinting at Rustum Ghazaleh, then-chief of the Syrian security apparatus in Lebanon (and later killed in unclear circumstances in Syria in 2015), who oversaw Damascus’ mandate over Lebanon from Anjar in Beqaa, near the Syrian-Lebanese border. The unprecedented escalation by opposition forces at the time portended a big confrontation, which indeed ended with the Syrian Army’s withdrawal from the country in the angry aftermath of Hariri’s assassination in February 2005.
In Iraq, no escalation reached such high levels. No Iraqi political figure has come out to denounce the vesting of Tehran’s relations with Iraq in Esmail Ghani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Al-Quds Force, as happened with his predecessor Qassem Soleimani. Ghani’s “unannounced” visit to Baghdad following the failed assassination attempt of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi merely aims at reiterating Iran’s control over a plethora of Iraq’s affairs and the daily operations of several groups and factions under the Popular Mobilization Force. However, the man was full of embarrassment (or anger, even, according to leaks from Iran) when he visited this time. He came to Baghdad carrying conciliatory settlements, some of which were announced in the statement issued by the Shia Coordination Framework (which includes the factions accused of committing the crime), while talks (that thus far remain rumors) abound of a new term for Kadhimi as prime minister.
Since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003, Tehran has maintained the same approach to the relations with Baghdad, one that considers Iraq to be a strategic security and military extension of Iran, to be dealt with like any Iranian province. Iran endeavors for the government in Baghdad to be loyal, or at least not hostile, to Tehran, but it also seeks to charge a senior security officer whose first and final reference is the IRGC and the Wali al-Faqih with running this “province”.
The commander of the Quds Force has military groups and battalions in Iraq that swear complete loyalty to the Wali al-Faqih. Some have political structures, and some are even involved in Iraq’s parliamentary, military, and security institutions. They are the ones that ensure with an iron fist that Iran’s influence is maintained on the ground. They are also the ones that challenge any attempt to object to this influence, whether by confronting the October Revolution and assassinating and persecuting activists, or by attacking the US Embassy and foreign missions in Baghdad or the military bases where forces of the Global Coalition are stationed.
Kadhimi’s assassination attempt is a sinful crime committed by one of the pro-Iran factions. Investigations confirm that the types of drones used in the attempt and the explosives they bore resemble those used in former attacks on US targets in Iraq for which Iran’s factions proudly claimed responsibility. Moreover, the political context that preceded the incident, especially the rejection of election results and the resort to the streets in an attempt to invalidate them, coupled with the direct threats launched by the pro-Tehran figure Qais al-Khazali, all provided a logical background pointing to these forces, which blame Kadhimi for his efforts to hold this election and his keenness to elevate the state’s authority above militias’ behaviors.
In Iraq, some find it hard to believe that “Iran’s factions” can decide to assassinate a prime minister without permission or instruction from Tehran. It is also hard to believe the interpretations that claim Ghani does not have the same power over these factions like Soleimani did, with some of these interpretations coming from circles close to Tehran. The aim of such excuses is to pin the assassination attempt on certain “undisciplined” groups or individuals who did what they did, perhaps for personal reasons, without referring to the leadership in Tehran.
The equation is truly simple: if the assassination attempt succeeds, sad, mourning, denouncing statements will come flooding in; and if it fails, the evil sinners who committed the crime will be disavowed. In both cases, someone, somewhere will opine that Iran is smarter than implicating itself in such a sin that could be detrimental to it. As such, Tehran’s story and Ghani’s rushed visit to Baghdad to meet with Kadhimi could be meant to say that Iran, which denounced and condemned the crime, cannot possibly be implicated in a suspicious operation that aims to pin the attempt on “the factions of Iran”, and subsequently, the state and regime of Iran (the same story Damascus used following Hariri’s assassination).
History has taught us that the assassination of a first-level figure could explode into a war between countries and even expand to a world war. After all, WWI began with the assassination of the Austrian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife in June 1914 in Sarajevo. However, Iran no longer accounts for this historical lesson. According to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Hariri’s assassination was committed by a “member” of pro-Iran Hezbollah, who was then sentenced in absentia in a personal capacity, with no accusations whatsoever to the party to which he belongs and the state that sponsors this party. As such, removing Kadhimi would be no different that removing Hariri in that the world today is incapable of dealing with such dramatic junctions in the current dysfunctional international system.
Given its long experience with the international community, Tehran would have successfully approached Kadhimi’s assassination had it succeeded. And now that it failed, Tehran lacks neither the excuse nor the tools to deal with the incident as a “new sedition,” in the words of the head of Iran’s National Security Council Ali Shamkhani. The choir of the Resistance Axis, from Tehran to Sanaa, will surely play a common symphony blaming Zionism, arrogant forces, and takfiri movements for adding fuel to the raging fire of sedition.
However, this arrogance cannot hide the fact that Iraq has changed. The October Revolution has shifted the popular mood against Tehran and the ballot boxes have let out the anger at Iran and its influence and factions. All the capitals of the world rushed to condemn the assassination attempt and support Baghdad and Kadhimi. General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the United States Central Command, accused pro-Iran factions of the crime, which could change the US position on Iran’s factions in Iraq (or what Washington described as “the right of reply”) and reshuffle the cards at the upcoming Vienna negotiations with new conditions and rules.
Kadhimi has stated: “We know who did it.” Iran realizes this time that it failed to do what the whole world knows its arms in Iraq are responsible for. One day, Iran may finally realize that normal and proper relations with its neighbor cannot continue to rely on militias inspected by an officer that comes on “unannounced visits” through Baghdad’s back doors.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Lebanese daily Annahar al-Arabi.
Kadhimi and understanding the Iranian message
A month of Iranian escalation ahead of the Vienna negotiations
Kadhimi… The man with a dream too big for Iraq