Iraq, the graveyard of the Iranian regime
Today, Iraq is living the second chapter of the war with Iran
When Iraq’s late President Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980, he naively thought the chaos that accompanied the arrival of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power would enable an Iraqi victory. Saddam rejected all regional and international calls to stop the war, as he was confident he would win.
Less than three years after the war erupted, the Iranians succeeded in expelling the Iraqis from western Iran. International mediations urged both parties to stop the war, but at that point it was Tehran that rejected this. Over the next five years, the war escalated. Iran suffered heavy material and human losses.
Despite that, the religious command rejected calls for reconciliation, as they believed victory required more human sacrifice – they even sent children to the frontlines. However, in wars military superiority is more important than readiness to die. The Iraqi Air Force confronted Iranian ground forces, so Khomeini in 1988 was forced to accept an end to the war.
Today, Iraq is living the second chapter of the war with Iran, which seeks to dominate its rich neighbor using the same strategy that the regime of Syria’s late President Hafez al-Assad used to dominate neighboring Lebanon, where it intervened under the excuse of saving it from civil war and then under the excuse of confronting Israel. Then, as now, it was about influence and exploitation.
Some may think that Iraq’s Shiite majority does not mind a strong Iranian presence in Iraq during the current instability, but this is untrueAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Under the excuse of saving Iraq from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, entered Iraq and is interfering in its internal affairs. Iraqi powers are aware of the threats posed by Tehran’s intervention to dominate the state’s decision-making process. However, like Lebanese leaders, they are distracted by their own disputes.
There are other political leaders, such as former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who are involved in deliberately weakening the central authority, and want to regain power at any cost. Haidar al-Abadi became prime minister two years ago, but has been unable to do his job because men such as Maliki and parties such as Iran have drowned Iraq in chaos via protests, threats and obstructing governmental work.
The most dangerous thing Tehran did is establish a militia called the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), which mostly consists of extremist religious groups, including the Forces of God’s Promise, the League of the Righteous, Saraya al-Jihad (Jihad Brigades), Saraya Ashura (Ashura Brigades), the Abbas Forces and others. They are as extreme as Sunni groups in Iraq such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, committing sectarian crimes such as burning down Sunni towns and executing homeless people.
Iran uses these militias to marginalize the Iraqi army. Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obaidi, a Sunni from Mosul, is occupied with struggles with other Sunni leaders. His presence is limited to TV appearances as he is a minister with no real jurisdiction.
Some may think that Iraq’s Shiite majority does not mind a strong Iranian presence in Iraq during the current instability, but this is untrue. This majority runs the state, and does not need a foreign power because it is the dominant power.
Why do Iraqi leaders such as Muqtada al-Sadr, Ammar al-Hakim or Abadi need Tehran? To confront ISIS? Most intelligence and logistical support is provided to them by the Americans, and most of the fighting is carried out by Iraqis. Is Iran providing financial support? Despite all the chaos, Iraq’s financial situation is better than Iran’s, and Iraq exports more oil.
Given the increase in Iranian intelligence activity, the number of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) members entering Iraq, and Iranian intervention in Baghdad’s affairs, Iraq is heading toward a clash with Tehran.
The appetite of Iran’s military and religious leaders is limitless, and is expanding beyond its borders. They have given up on the old policy of depending on proxies to manage their battles, becoming directly involved in fighting in Syria and Iraq, and indirectly involved in Lebanon and Yemen. This situation cannot go on. In Iraq, the biggest loser from Iranian domination is the Shiites, because Sunni powers are already outside the game.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Aug. 16, 2016.
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. He tweets @aalrashed