When Saddam Hussein naively invaded Iran in 1980, he thought that the chaos that accompanied Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power was an opportunity to regain what his first enemy, the Shah of Iran, made him surrender by force. The former Iraqi president refused to heed all regional and international calls to stop the war because he was confident of victory.
Less than three years after the outbreak of the war, Iraqi troops retreated and the Iranians gained the upper hand and succeeded in expelling the Iraqis from western Iran. International intermediaries returned and urged both parties to stop the war, but this time it was Tehran who refused. During the next five years, the violence of the war increased and it became fierce and crazy. The Iranians experienced huge human and material losses. However, the religious leadership rejected calls for reconciliation in the belief that victory requires the loss of many lives, and it even began to send children to the war fronts. However, in war, military superiority is more important than a readiness to die. Superior Iraqi military aviation fought the superior Iranian ground forces until Khomeini yielded in 1988 and was forced to accept an end to the war.
Today, Iraq is living the second chapter of the war with Iran. The regime in Tehran is seeking to dominate its rich neighbour Iraq using the same strategy that Hafez Al-Assad’s regime used to completely dominate Lebanon; using the pretext that it is intervening in order to save it from civil war and confrontation with Israel. In reality, all of these wars aim to wield influence and exploit.
Under the pretext of saving Iraq from ISIS, the commander of the Quds Force that is part of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Major General Qasem Soleimani has entered Iraq and is now interfering in disputes between Iraqi forces. In spite of their differences, Iraqi forces are aware of the imminent dangers resulting from representatives of the Iranian regime interfering in the management of Iraqi matters. They are also aware of the existence of a project to control the state, but like the Lebanese leaders, they are distracted by the details of conflicts.
There are other political leaders, such as the former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who are trying to weaken the central authority and want to regain power at any cost. Since Haider Al-Abadi was sworn in two years ago, he has not yet been able to exercise his power as prime minister.
The reason for this is that scoundrels like Al-Maliki and Iran have plunged the country into chaos with a series of demonstrations and threats and by disrupting government departments. The most dangerous thing that the Iranians did was establish a militia parallel to the army called Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi (the Popular Mobilisation Units) which is mostly formed of extremist religious groups that include Quwwat Wa’d Ullah, Asaib Al-Haq, Saraya Al-Jihad, Saraya Ashuraa, Firqat Al-Abbas and others. They are no less extreme than Sunni groups in Iraq such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and commit sectarian crimes like burning Sunni villages and executing those displaced from areas of fighting.
Iran is using the leaders of this militia to marginalise the Iraqi army. Even the Defence Minister Khaled Al-Obaidi, a Sunni from Mosul, is occupied with conflicts with Sunni leaders. His presence is limited to TV appearances and he is a minister with no real authority.
Some may see that Iraq’s Shiite majority would not mind a strong Iranian presence in Iraq during this current turbulent phase, but this is not true. The majority runs the state and does not need an external power because it is the dominant power. Why do Iraqi leaders such as Moqtada Al-Sadr, Ammar Al-Hakim or Al-Abadi need the Iranian regime? To fight ISIS? Most of the intelligence and logistical support is provided by the Americans and most of the fighting is carried out by Iraqis. Does Iran provide them with any material support? Despite the chaos it is in, Iraq is in a better financial position than Iran, and Iraq exports more oil.
Given the increase in Iranian intelligence activity, the increase in the number of members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who have crossed the border into Iraq and the Iranian leadership’s persistent intervention in the affairs of Baghdad, Iraq is heading towards a confrontation with Iran.
The appetite of Iran’s military and religious leaders is limitless, they are starting to expand externally and have abandoned their old policy of depending on proxies to manage their battles. They have been directly engaged in the fighting in Syria and Iraq, and indirectly in Lebanon and Yemen. This situation cannot continue. As for Iraq, the biggest loser from Iranian domination today is the Shiites because Sunni forces are already outside of the game.