If Iraq rids itself of undue Iranian influence, it could gain lucrative trade deals with the Gulf.
Rabat – One of the most complicated legacies of the US-led Iraqi invasion has been the increasing influence the Islamic Republic of Iran has been able to exert over its neighbor and historical foe. Recent protests across Iraq calling for freedom from Iran’s influence underline this reality. Iraqi politicians would do well to listen to their demands to achieve the political stability and development Iraq needs.
While Iraq and Iran share a cultural and religious background, the history of this relation has not been easy.
The Sunni-led government of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party was in constant confrontation with Shiite Iran, but now the influence of Iran has permitted some Shiite-backed militias and politicians to rise to power. The sad truth for Iraqis is that Tehran’s shadow operators are not permitting Iraq to grow and take advantage of its potential.
Filling a power vacuum
Iran’s influence in Iraq has been steadily growing since the US invasion of 2003. Until then, tension between the neighboring countries largely maintained the delicate balance in the region, and Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship kept Iranian power in check.
The ousting of Hussein created a power vacuum that the Iranian government has since exploited, slowly expanding its influence in Iraq.
This is how Iran operates: The country tends to exert its influence in the region and the world through proxies. Tehran is not working to promote Iraqi well-being.
After the gradual withdrawal of American troops started in 2009, Iranian interference in Iraq kept growing, and Iraq’s independence has been gradually, but severely, undermined.
In 2014, Iran helped Iraq organize militias to combat the Islamic State, extending its influence in its neighbor’s politics. In 2018, Qassem Soleimani, commander of the elite Quds forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, brokered the deal the deal that put Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi into power in Baghdad, bringing Iranian interests directly into power in Baghdad.
Iranian influence explains the protest movement that erupted in Baghdad in October 2019, criticizing the administration and its perceived corruption and denouncing Iraq’s poverty, unemployment, and inefficient public services.
The protesters are young, grassroots-organized and largely leaderless, but supported by pro-sovereignty groups tirelessly trying to rid the country of Tehran’s influence. What all of them have in common is the desire to reaffirm Iraq’s sovereignty and improve the living conditions of the population of 32 million, of which 23% live in poverty.
Opposition groups like the anti-sectarian National Independent Iraqi Front, led by both Sunni and Shi’a figures, are increasingly attracting the attention of protesters as a unified message in ejecting Iran from the country becomes more defined.
In a nod to a new wave of Iraqi nationalism, Ammar al-Hakim, a former cleric whose family was murdered by Saddam Hussein, is also campaigning to push Iran back through his National Wisdom Council.
Adding weight to the opposition groups’ pro-sovereignty message, Iran-backed police and militias tried to repress the fight against Baghdad’s pro-Iranian policies.
Young people filled the streets, demanding a free Iraq, political reform and an end to the control of Iran-backed Shiite militias.
The protests forced the resignation of the prime minister, but there seems to be no end to them in sight under the new government.
Soleimani’s death in January further destabilized the situation, igniting anti-American and pro-Iranian sentiment in sectors of the population.
Following the US attack on Soleimani, the Iraqi government requested the exit of remaining US troops. American withdrawal could make the country even more permeable to Iranian influence if the numerous pro-sovereignty groups are not supported.
Iraq’s other options
Iraq has great prospects to succeed as a nation given its significant oil resources, but only when Iraq’s policymakers can make decisions for Iraqi citizens will the country be able to achieve its full potential.
Pushing Iran back to its own borders may also invite lucrative trade deals with the Gulf, countries that are currently reluctant to enter Iraq because of Iran’s presence as their regional adversary.
If the Gulf made “no strings attached” foreign investment, it would help answer protesters’ calls to end poverty and corruption. Investment would strengthen the government, pacify rising internal discontent, and introduce a more stable geopolitical landscape.
The Iraqi decision-makers can take advantage of the current situation and the pro-sovereignty groups to drive out Iran-controlled politicians.
Those who advocate for pro-sovereignty include the Najafa brothers from Mosul, the National Wisdom Movement led by Ammar al-Hakim, the National Independent Iraqi Front, and the protesters themselves. These groups have Iraq’s best interests at heart and will be a valuable asset in steering Iraq away from pro-Iranian actors and fulfilling the demands of protesters.
Iran is currently holding the country back, holding its resources and people hostage. With Iran’s shadow power eliminated from Baghdad, the economy will once again expand, and the country will be able to advance far beyond the levels it has seen in the past decades.
The best way to back Iraq is to support the groups that promote sovereignty and well-being for its citizens rather than relying on Tehran’s duplicitous policies.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed without permission.