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The story of Iran’s conformity to Iraq

Hazem al-Amin

Published: Updated:

It has become difficult to view Iraqi developments as “Iraqi” because the country, on the Shiite front, has become a part of the Iranian regional system. On the Sunni front, it has become an extension of an Arab depth linked to what is happening in Syria. The Hawija incident in Kirkuk has revealed this in a shocking manner. The army's attack on the weak chain of Sunni protest squares and the bloody results of it harmonized with Lebanese Hezbollah's attack on Qusayr suburbs with the support of Syrian regime warplanes.

It is difficult to resist the temptation of linking between the two incidents. The Iranian depth in both and the identity of the attacker and the attacked increase the tendency to do so. The rhetoric adopted by the parties confronting conflicts was the same throughout both incidents. The "Farsi army" versus "al-Qaeda gangs" and Iran versus Qatar, Turkey and Israel. The geographic connection between the Iraqi Sunni mobilization and the revolting Syrian provinces adds to the connection tasks that have for long been strengthened through the rhetoric of Iraqi tribes protesting against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Iraq’s west is an extension of the Syrian revolution, and it is the belt that separates Iranian influence in Baghdad from Sunni countries, the Gulf, Jordan and Syria, and it is also the route for Iranian aid to the regime in Syria.

Linking Iraq and Syria

The Syrian and Iraqi incidents are intertwined to the extent that no effort is needed to prove it. The one topical incident was prepared to regionalize between Iran and Turkey, and the arms are either Iranian or Turkish and Qatari. Exaggeration in stating that local incidents are linked to both axes is not exaggeration even if motives are denied. This is because even if an incident occurs locally, the aim is to attempt taking it to a regional level. Such an attempt provides a better luck for success amidst the weak local relations and the weak national ties.

Iran is Maliki's last haven in confronting his Shiite rivals whom he feels are close to toppling him.

Hazem al-Amin

Iran in Lebanon has acted the same since 2005. It has not spared a chance to invest in conforming to the Iraqi Shiite groups. After it shared this influence with Damascus, it began to hold this influence exclusively for itself ever since the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. And so, Iran today is a sole master in Beirut. The same goes for Iraq. Nuri al-Maliki is urging towards more adherence with Iran. Iran is Maliki's last haven in confronting his Shiite rivals whom he feels are close to toppling him. Iran is also Maliki's last haven in standing up for his Sunni rivals in the western region and the northern one and in standing up for his Kurdish rivals whom he is in a dispute with over Kirkuk and the petroleum law.

Iran succeeded in protecting Maliki by providing a Shiite quorum for his cabinet. It prevented Muqtada al-Sadr from exceeding the proper bounds of his opposition and pressured the Kurds not to go through confronting him all the way until the end. It did so by either aiding itself with Jalal Talbani against Masaud Barazani or by economic and investment promises.

These efforts had a regional task. Iraq is not Iran. It wasn't even easy to incorporate Iraq's Shiites in Iranian rituals. The situation required that Iraqi Shiites feel the threat of the "foreign enemy," the Sunni one of course. It also required that Shiite leaders in Baghdad feel threatened by the Shiite if they do not go to Tehran and that the latter is the only guarantee to remain a leader.

Sadr is currently punished in Beirut. Al-Hakim is in a situation no one envies them for. Maliki is thus the sole Iraqi Shiite decision maker. None of this would have been achieved if it hadn't been for Tehran.

The price that Iran awaits for all this generosity lies in the Syrian and nuclear issues. And so Iranian dailies in Beirut can add a country to the axis of Resistance. Its favorite phrase has thus become: "Tehran, Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad."

Subjugating Baghdad has Iranian aims that are more important than both, Damascus and Beirut. Iraq is a rich country and the master needs not pay a salary for his servant. It is in fact the other way around. Tehran invests in the chaos of producing petroleum in Iraq and of smuggling it. Controlling Baghdad also achieves controlling the Shiite sentiment, the position of diligence, shrines and seminaries. The factory for Shiism, its identity and essence lies in all of the latter.

Add to this, the geographic location which provides the Iranian influence with capabilities to geographically connect with all of the region's crises and cases.

Arabs have neglected Iraq for the past ten years. They have not invested in the Shiite contradictions particularly when Maliki demolished Iranian influence strongholds in Basra during the operation "Charge of the Knights." They rejected the new experience in all its details. During this time, the Iranians established their influence amidst the Arab and American negligence and so they won Iraq.

It's time to reap the rewards now, and Maliki has to pay his debt. He must support Bashar's regime in Syria, and he must become part of the Iranian regional system. And he is currently completely ready for this task. His Shiite competitors and Sunni rivals besiege him from both sides. Meanwhile, the Iranian master observes the very accurate formula it schemed over the past ten years.

Iran’s ‘backyards’

The Hawija incident carried a new aspect however. It is that the tendency towards mutiny has become mixed with a tendency towards separatism. This was expressed by seizing army and police stations in Sunni provinces. This is similar to the inclination of establishing liberated zones in Syria. In this context, it seems that the Iranians' success to extend their influence to the governing body is no longer enough to hold control of the authority's basis. This applies to Iraq and Syria as well as Lebanon. The countries of the axis of the Resistance are socially infiltrated, in a dissimilar manner, and this obstructs the harmony of the task.

Iraq, Lebanon and Syria are Iran’s backyards affected by the revolution in Syria. And it seems that the Iranians have committed a mistake of investment there. They have sent the Lebanese Hezbollah to aid the Baath Party in Syria but they did not take into account that their authority in Baghdad is not whole yet despite the great investment there. If they have schemed for an Alawite region in Syria as a last plan in case the regime falls apart, then the Sunni region in Iraq will not be far from achieving. As for Lebanon, it also has division plans that are too big for its area. The smoke rising from the drone which Israel downed above Haifa seems similar to the last salutation a soldier performs to his officer before he departs to another front.


This article was first published in al-Hayat on April 29, 2013.


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Hazem al-Amin is a Lebanese writer and journalist at al-Hayat. He was a field reporter for the newspaper, and covered wars in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza. He specialized in reporting on Islamists in Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Kurdistan and Pakistan, and on Muslim affairs in Europe. He has been described by regional media outlets as one of Lebanon's most intelligent observers of Arab and Lebanese politics.

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