Kadhimi, a turning point for Iraq and Iran

Abdul Wahab Badrakhan

Published: Updated:

The failure of Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s assassination attempt was a turning point for Iraq, but also for Iran. Esmail Ghani would have undoubtedly preferred to rush to Baghdad to engineer the post-Kadhimi era ahead of the US withdrawal as per the vision of Iran and its militias, which have finally and inevitably earned the “terrorist” label long attributed to them. After all, these groups took advantage of the war on ISIS to practice the worst kinds of terrorism against Iraqis, while earning praise for helping combat ISIS. Once that war was over, the real fighters, the Ansar al-Marjaiya faction of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), took their rightful position and joined the Armed Forces. Other factions resorted to the trick of morphing into pro-Iran “political parties” and managed to gain parliamentary seats in 2018. As for the so-called “loyalist factions,” these were kept on the margin by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for the dirty missions, which were aimed sometimes at US forces and always at the Iraqi state.

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Esmail Ghani, the IRGC’s Al-Quds Force Commander, tried to hint that Tehran had no knowledge of the assassination attempt and claimed that it would not have given its approval had it known of it. Nonetheless, the attempt happened, and failed. Ghani visited Baghdad to profess the innocence of Tehran first, and the perpetrators second. With his dark humor, he went as far as demanding a “precise technical investigation” to find out who the aggressor is, as if Iran would really deny Iraq the missiles and drones it provides its militias in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. Ghani was cited as “criticizing” the assassination attempt, but this criticism failed to rise to a public condemnation. The only purpose of his statement was covering up the failure and preventing ripples on loyalists to Iran. This was evidenced by Tehran’s previous arbitrary accusation against “foreign think tanks,” according to National Security Council head Ali Shamkhani, later reiterated by the Foreign Minister. This remained the official stance. Iran launches accusations but does not condemn.

Tehran realized that its followers have been losing. First the October Revolution, then the elections, then the rejection of election results, and now the assassination attempt. In the eyes of many, they became the accused and had to be held accountable. However, neither Iran nor its followers are accustomed to handing over wanted persons in any country. This is why Tehran rushed to send Ghani to Iraq, in an attempt to reiterate that its equation in Iraq remains the same and will not be compromised; and to show that Tehran is looking to find an exit for the militias. But in exchange for what? None of the agreements supposedly reached by Kadhimi and Ghani have been translated to facts on the ground. Tensions have yet to subside into calm. Instead, the militias continue to threaten to plunge Iraq into chaos.

As such, many questions arise: Will Iran’s ambiguous stance on the election results put an end to protests? Can Tehran declare that it does not endorse its militias’ show of force against the Iraqi state? Does it respect that state? Can it guarantee that Abu Fadak al-Mohammadawi, Qais Khazali, Abu Alaa al-Walai, and other unhinged murderers will behave themselves? Has it realized that the time has come to dissolve Kata'ib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, and Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada', given their proven role in destabilizing Iraq? When will it admit that the concept of a state necessarily requires the consent of the Iraqi public of all backgrounds, especially Shias? And most importantly: are its terrorist groups entitled to publicly threaten the Iraqi Prime Minister and decide to kill him without consulting with their IRGC leaders? And in whose name and whose favor would it do that?

The answer, surely enough, is in Iran’s name, and in Iran’s favor. Nobody believes that the militias did not get the greenlight before bombing Kadhimi’s house with explosives-laden drones. Now that Tehran failed to achieve its goal, it shall suffer the consequences. Kadhimi survived the attempt on his life and immediately called for pacification. His followers, supporters, and alleged allies beseeched him to punish the perpetrators, but he proved his incredible pragmatism once again. It seemed as if he got over the incident and carried on with his journey, which, despite not responding to traditional expectations (such as showing force and using it for revenge), contributed in a little over a year to weakening Iran-backed forces, as evidenced by the election results. Kadhimi pushed for snap elections, a demand that had been raised by the October Revolution and not endorsed by pro-Iran forces. Despite the slight apparent change in the political map, the vote managed to shrink the influence of PMF militias, whose voters split their ballots between the blocs of Muqtada al-Sadr and Nuri al-Maliki, both of whom are trying to leverage their association with Iran in the framework of the state: the former ambiguously, and the latter opportunistically. At the same time, Kadhimi made his best efforts to maintain the Armed Forces’ role as protector of the state, away from internal conflicts and without engaging in the service of any party, particularly Iran.

The Armed Forces were only doing their job and duty when they faced the protest held by election losers near the Green Zone gates. This was the second time that approaching the Green Zone proves costly, as two men from the militias lost their lives in the confrontations, and the Prime Minister was nearly killed in revenge. The first time, the US Embassy was attacked in late 2019, and Qassem Soleimani was assassinated along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (former Kataib Hezbollah leader) two days later by a US drone.

Iran-backed militias seem to have begun the season of trade-offs everywhere. In Lebanon, Hezbollah wants to trade the investigation into the Beirut Port blast for the investigation into the Tayouneh protest that killed seven supporters of Lebanon’s shia duo, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement. In Yemen, the Houthis are looking to trade the cease-fire for establishing their influence. In Iraq, the militias propose the attack on Kadhimi in exchange for the punishment of the Armed Forces for their repression of the protest; as well as trading “the correction” of election results for non-objection to Kadhimi remaining Prime Minister.

Yet, the trade-offs put on the table, particularly in Iraq, are a sign that the militias are in a crisis. Here they are now, reinforcing Kadhimi’s chances to remain Prime Minister despite wishing otherwise. Tehran’s obligation to take this path is not surprising, for it realizes that consensus on its “candidate” is impossible. Not only is the Shia community divided, but also, Ghani is not Soleimani. Gone are the days when Iran had sole control over Iraq under Nuri al-Maliki. Kadhimi has taken a third road. He’s neither a weak puppet, nor an authoritarian; he’s just a man who wants Iraq’s interest. He’s neither Iran’s man nor its foe, but he does know its policies. He does not clash with its militias, but he also does not hesitate to deter them if they choose chaos and civil war. As foreign powers follow Kadhimi’s every move, encouraging them here and understanding their slow pace there, domestic forces cannot be blamed for urging these moves to higher speed, as their outrage against the militias has reached its peak.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Lebanese news outlet Annahar al-Arabi.

Read more:

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Drone planes and the new type of terrorism

Kadhimi and understanding the Iranian message

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