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Opinion: Iran’s Creeping Conquest of Iraq | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Head of the Iraqi Shi’ite militia the Badr Organization Hadi Al-Ameri (R) meets with military commanders near Samarra in northern Iraq, on March 4, 2015. (EPA/Ali Mohammed)

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 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) leaders’ authority over what have been dubbed the Popular Mobilization forces, an alliance of Shi’ite militias.

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

A New York Times report said Iran has deployed rockets and missiles in Iraq, while several Iraqi leaders have spoken out about a military deal struck with Iran worth 10 billion US dollars.

This goes beyond temporary Iranian support for Iraq during its ordeal. It’s more a plan by the Iranians to dominate and seize control of its oil-rich Iraqi neighbor, which has geostrategic importance.

What has changed since September is that Iran can no longer count on the office of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, who was its close ally, now that he’s been constitutionally toppled.

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

The Iranian march towards Iraq and its domination over Baghdad’s decision-making process may express Iran’s desire to secure its control over Syria and Iraq, and this would automatically mean hegemony over the Arab Levant, as well as the Gulf.

Iran grew concerned when Iraqi forces succeeded in forcing Maliki to exit power at a time when the former premier was intending to renew his term for another four years—had Maliki been successful he would have governed Iraq for twelve consecutive years by resorting to absolute power that resembled 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 Islamic Da’wa Party which turned against him.

His comrade Haider 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 that 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 Shi’ite militias that they call the Popular Mobilization forces, which are currently fighting in Sunni areas.

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

Even after the defeat of forces hostile to the Lebanese state, the Syrian troops stayed in Lebanon within the context of a comprehensive occupation that saw political figures assassinated or marginalized.

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 the IRGC currently have a substantial presence 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 temporary military cooperation.

Comments from Iraqi leaders on the vast sums of weapons being bought from Iraq by Iran only enhance these fears.

Since 10 billion dollars is a huge amount of money, and since Iran does not have weapons that are worth this amount, these statements prove that Maliki’s government funded Iranian activities in the region under different pretexts which were then recorded as military purchases.

Truth be told, the amount of money paid by the Iraqis to the IRGC—regardless of how large a sum it is—is not the real issue here.

What’s more important is Iran’s intentions concerning its presence in Iraq and its role in managing Iraqi forces and controlling Iraqi political decisions. So are we witnessing an Iranian conquest of Iraq?