Iran’s seizure of Iraq

Iran is increasingly falling under the watchful eye of the world as it 'helps' Iraq, defeat ISIS

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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The battle to rid Tikrit of the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has revealed the depth of the Iranian military’s role in Iraq, as well as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard leaders’ authority over what has been dubbed the “popular mobilization” units - militias parallel to the Iraqi army.

Iran has sent forces, consultants and arms to Iraq. And its security leaders have reiterated their view that they are the ones who saved the Iraqi regime and Baghdad.

A New York Times report said Iran deployed rockets and missiles in Iraq, while several Iraqi leaders spoke about a military deal struck with Iran worth $10 billion.

This does not fall into the context of temporary Iranian support for Iraq during its ordeal. It’s more a plan by the Iranians to dominate and seize control of their oil-rich Iraqi neighbor, which has a significant geostrategic location.

The process of Iran’s seizure of Iraq resembles that of the Syrian model in Lebanon

What changed since September is that Iran no longer settles with counting on the office of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki - who was its close ally - now that he’s been constitutionally toppled by the majority of Iraqi forces.

Iran has therefore decided to be present in all Iraqi political, military, partisan and religious posts.

Iran’s worry

The Iranian march towards Iraq and its domination over Baghdad’s decision-making process may express Iran’s desire to finalize regional struggles where it dominates Syria and Iraq, and this automatically means a domination over the Arab Levant, including the Gulf.

Iran’s worry increased when Iraqi forces succeeded in making Maliki exit power at a time when he was holding on to his post and intending to renew his premiership term for four more years to end up governing Iraq for 12 consecutive years by resorting to absolute power that resembles the former regime of Saddam Hussein.

The United States supported the plan to eliminate Maliki by cooperating with Iraq’s political parties including Maliki’s party Dawa which turned against him.

His comrade Haidar al-Abadi was chosen to take over the premiership post.

It seems that eliminating Maliki emboldened the Iranian regime to directly interfere in Iraq and obstruct the political reconciliation which Abadi pledged to achieve with Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

The Iranians have also aborted the project to establish a National Guard force, and instead have established a combination of extremist Shiite militias which they call “the popular mobilization” units and which currently handle the fighting in Sunni areas.

Comprehensive domination formula

The process of Iran’s seizure of Iraq resembles that of the Syrian model in Lebanon - it started under the banner of the Arab Deterrent Force and later, during the 1970's, Syrian troops resorted to confronting Palestinian militias.

Even after the defeat of forces hostile to the Lebanese authority, the Syrian troops stayed in Lebanon within the context of a comprehensive domination formula which cancelled historical political figures either by assassinating or marginalizing them.

The Syrians also controlled all aspects of the economy, established the party of Hezbollah as their military arm and fully controlled Lebanon for a quarter of a century.

Iranian intelligence and Revolutionary Guard forces are currently heavily present inside Iraq and most of them are deployed under the slogan of confronting ISIS.

However the size of Iranian interference - in my view - confirms that Iran is not present in Iraq for a temporary military cooperation plan.

What enhances these fears is comments from Iraqi leaders that it bought weapons worth $10 billion.

Since the latter amount of money is huge, and since Iran does not have weapons that are worth this amount, then this proves several politicians’ statements that in the past few years, Maliki’s government funded Iranian activities in the region under different excuses which were either described as financial compensation or as the cost of military purchases.

Truth be told, the amount of money paid by the Iraqis to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard - regardless of how hefty they are - are not the case here.

What’s more important is Iran’s intentions of this presence in Iraq and of managing Iraqi forces and controlling Iraqi political decisions. So are we ahead of an Iranian seizure of Iraq?

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on March 19, 2015.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.