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Iran and Haider al-Abadi’s battle

Hazem Saghieh

Published: Updated:

The recent political and media backlash faced by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, as well as Tehran’s refusal to receive him, has not only exposed the criticality of the Iraqi situation and position but also hints there is an available opportunity that must not be ignored.

Abadi said he disagrees with the policy of sanctions but he added that he cannot but commit to them out of concern for Iraq’s national interests. This stance also expresses the country’s humble capabilities.

Following the attack against him, he had to ease his position and decided against having any financial deals with Tehran in dollars.

National interest trumps sectarianism

Abadi’s stance is correct as any statesman has to give priority to his country’s national interests and give due consideration to the balance of power. Even Iran had taken a similar decision when Iraq was facing severe economic sanctions that impoverished its people but did not affect Saddam Hussein’s hold on power.

However, Abadi’s position clashes with facts and interests that have accumulated since 2003, particularly since the US troops’ withdrawal which began in 2007 and which concluded in 2011 leaving Iraq under Iran’s mercy as the only player.

Haider al-Abadi’s conviction of the necessity to take an unusual step to limit Iraqi collapse is most probably sensing approval by Al-Sistani reference

Hazem Saghieh

In Iraq, two major wills converged. The first was of Iran that sought to fill the vacuum left by the West, especially by the US, and that sought through neighboring Iraq to control an imperial geographic range that stretches from Yemen in the south to Gaza in the west so it (Tehran) can have the final word regarding the situation of some Arab countries, mainly Syria, and to control the course of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The second will is that of certain Iraqi Shiite parties that have always had Iran’s sponsorship and support. These parties, primarily former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the Popular Mobilization Forces and its militias, have since the beginning preferred to hand over Iraq to Iran on a golden plate.

This relationship, among other issues, causes this confusion between the national identity and the religious and sectarian identities, and which our region suffers from.

Iran’s diabolical design

Anyway, the confluence of these two dynamic wills established a huge network of interests and loyalties that obstructed the Iraqi state and its proper operation. It also provoked Iraqi nationalism and mobilized non-Shiite Iraqis, whether Sunnis, Kurds and others.

The process of collapse recently reached an advanced stage, as evident in the popular protests against corruption and against the water and electricity crises. These protests were preceded by the position of Muqtada al-Sadr, whose bloc came in first in the parliamentary elections in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the protesters did not hesitate to call out Iran and to demand liberation from its influence and from its followers. This further revealed how critical the situation is.

On the other hand, the Iraqi national project amid these policies is threatened by unprecedented challenges, such as the emergence of ‘southern unrest’ demanding to separate Basra from Iraq.

Haidar al-Abadi’s conviction of the necessity to take an unusual step to limit Iraqi collapse is most probably sensing approval by al-Sistani reference.

The weight represented by the Shiite reference will be major to face the forces that have rushed to attack the prime minister and who are striking with Iran’s sword. However, it is also certain that Iran’s situation itself has provided an encouraging factor that cannot be underestimated.

Throwing off Iran’s yoke

The terrible economic conditions, the growing conflicts within the ruling elite and the rising accusations among its parties are encouraging to go ahead and regain Iraq’s freedom from Iran’s clutches.

This does not negate the fact that Iran will try, be it directly or through its proxies, to resume its battle against Abadi by all means, as losing Iraq will be an inevitable prelude to the end of the regional and imperial project which it sponsors.

After all, Iraq is too important for Iran to give up. Since that’s the case, it’s urgent that Arab countries say their word and associate it with actions in a confrontation the consequences of which are not limited to Abadi or even the Iraqis but go beyond.

This article is also available in Arabic.

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Hazem Saghieh is a Lebanese political analyst and the political editor of the London-based Arab newspaper al-Hayat.

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