Clues to facing Iran in Iraq

Firas Elias
Translated by Shaimaa Shedeed

Currently, Iran faces a big problem in marketing its theocratic political – sectarian model that it adopts and depends on in the mission of extending its regional power in Iraq. Although it relies on the “Shia empowerment” theory so as to succeed in reaching its political goal, this success itself resulted in a failure sometimes because of its Shia factors’ bad performance that harms the Iranian interests.
This feeling of annoyance owned by number of Iraqi people due to the increasing Iranian power and latest US military deployment in Iraq makes the Iraqi state an expected arena for direct conflict between Iran and the US. Actually, both the US and Iran warned from the effect of other existing forces in Iraq. Similarly, visits of US secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif reflected both states’ desire to keep their power in Iraq. Zarif then met with number of political and tribal figures to know their situation from the US intensive existence in Iraq, meanwhile, US President Donald Trump said that the US troops would partially stay in Iraq to “watch” Iran.
Although the US President decided to withdraw the US troops from Eastern Syria, he refused any predictions about withdrawal from Iraq, underlining the necessity of Keeping the Ain al-Assad base. On the other hand, Iran sought for intensifying its power and authority in Iraq, especially because Iraq is located in the heart of the comprehensive regional strategy of Iran due to its geographic location. In fact, Iraq represents a central artery from which Iran finances its military campaigns in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen whether on the level of financial support or logistic one.
Thee US decision makers keep searching for ways to confront Iran in Iraq such as the US redeployment plan specifically in the Northern and western areas, however, the US plan seems immature as there are many variables should have been considered in the US current direction in Iraq. These variables include the increasing ISIS threats, the IMIS domination, absence of local Sunni factors that can affect the future situation and ambiguous Kurdish vision around its harmony with the future US plans.
The US also fears the local rooted military support Iran has in Iraq and on which it can depends. In addition, Iran sought for militating the Iraqi society through producing dozens of armed militias due to the threat the ISIS represents on the Iranian project. Iran-backed IMIS that has a complicated history in Iraq can also stand as a buffer against the future challenges. Iran also militated the political Shia parties by making it civil and military at the same time, so it became military parties.
Under these circumstances, the military existence became the heart of the power conflict in Iraq. Thus, the US should on the other side develop its relations with the expected partners in Iraq such as the armed Sunni factions and Sunni tribes and specifically the political forces in Amman, London and. Washington. In addition, there is a big Shia current in south Iraq cities refusing the Iranian influence should be used to face the Tehran’s power in Iraq and so the parliament members who revealed a trend against the Iranian leverage such as Saeroun, Alhekma and Alwatanya.
Under the current US military presence in Iraq, the pro-US forces may face a critical situation as the Iranian-backed proxies may push for a direct military confrontation which will be extremely costly under the domination of the Iranian regional large scale forces. Besides, Iranian ability to regionalize any conflict gets any expected clash extremely grievous. Meanwhile , general Qassem Suleimani with Failaq Al-quds similarly established extensive relations with different Sunni and Shia forces revealed loyalty to Iran during last phase.
Although the policy of economic sanctions approached by the US against Iran seems as preferred strategic option, it will lose its efficiency and essence in case it is extended for long time without tangible results on the ground. This is because we are speaking about Iran that has restructured it’s economy so that it can face the sanctions and. Iran also has a long history in the way of dealing with the sanctions and crises. Thus, the US officials should think about alternative steps beside the sanctions can help in limiting the Iranian expansion.
Reviving the cooperation with the national and regional elements inimical to the Iranian project in Iraq is necessary to face the Iranian power. Policies followed by the militias close to the Revolutionary Guard are based on embezzling and pressuring factions who aren’t in conformity with, which paves the way for the US to make strategic manoeuvring more than before. Although Iran could succeed in producing pro-Iran groups in Iraq, these groups itself made many Iraqi civilians abandon and damn the Iranian project. Besides, there is a self-rule desire in the areas of Arab and Kurds after they became under the power of Iranian allies in Iraq. They refuse to be included in the Iranian political project in Iraq.
These local elements are the most capable of dealing with Iran in Iraq as they have a military and strategic background enables them to face the Iranian leverage. This can be through their political speeches that go beyond the narrow sectarian and doctrinal borders. Presumably, this strategy will be supported by other regional forces such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia whose interests lie in liberalizing Iraq from the Iranian grip.
Truly, handling the Iranian issue in Iraq requires a comprehensive strategic vision beyond the scope of sanctions and military presence. This strategy begins with isolating Iran and focusing on building local strategic partnerships inside Iraq to face the Iranian leverage. These measures should be a part of a comprehensive plan especially because Iran will be able to continue in its expansion policies by finding alternative paths through which it can extend its leverage and power regionally in case it quits Iraq. Finally, if the US wants to go on following its policies to prevent the Iranian extension, it should consider Iraq merely an important step not a final and sole measurement.

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