New US President Donald Trump has repeatedly slammed his predecessor Barack Obama over Iraq, accusing him of leaving the country as easy prey for Iran, and of wasting $3 trillion on building an allied Iraq.
In response, Iran has made veiled, indirect threats instead of sending reassurances. It instructed one of its proxy militias in Iraq, Harkat Al-Nujaba — a large militia equipped to attack neighbors, similar to the Houthis in Yemen, who are targeting Saudi Arabia with Iranian projectiles — to launch missiles in a show of force.
Iran’s key goal is to seize the resources of Iraq, the second-richest country in the region, in order to finance its economic and military needs. In the last six years, Tehran has managed to turn Iraq into an Iranian military base to be used to wage war in Syria and to threaten Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The leadership of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has bragged that its military activities in Syria and Iraq have not cost the Iranian treasury a single rial. This is because such activities are funded by the Iraqi treasury, which has become an Iranian financial portfolio that is controlled by pro-Tehran groups since Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi’s powers were significantly reduced.
A number of Trump administration officials previously served in Iraq, and know well how Tehran is dominating the country. As such, they have more than once expressed their anger with Obama’s policy, which allowed Iraq to be controlled by Iran.
How can we expect the Trump administration to counter Tehran’s influence in Baghdad? It is quite unlikely that US forces will be sent to Iraq, but Trump will probably take significant steps to limit Iranian influence. Most likely he will hold the Iraqi government responsible and leave it with difficult choices.
The Trump administration could also revive the role of US-allied powers such as the Kurds to balance pro-Iran ones. National Shiite and Sunni opposition powers are expected to be backed in their demand for the revival of the civil state project that Obama’s administration neglected.
Iraqis face greater danger from Iran than the Gulf states do, but all countries in the region are susceptible to the danger. The Iraqi treasury has become an Iranian financial portfolio controlled by pro-Tehran groups.Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
The question, however, is not what Trump can do to stop Iran’s takeover of Iraq, but what the countries of the region can do to support national powers there. Serious failures occurred after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 when these countries, including those in the Gulf, rejected the American call for cooperation in order to build a national Iraqi regime.
Conditions were then favorable for Iran to intervene. It emerged as the only regional power offering collaboration with the Americans in managing the new Iraq. At the same time, in cooperation with the Syrian regime, it backed the so-called Iraqi resistance and Al-Qaeda militants in their operations aimed at ending the US military presence in Iraq.
Iran was successful in its two-faced policy of collaborating and conspiring, especially after Obama took office, as he opted to communicate with Tehran rather than counter it when he realized the extent of its influence in Iraq.
Current leaders in the White House, Pentagon and intelligence agencies who previously served in Iraq fully realize that Iran was behind attacks against US troops in Iraq, including those by Al-Qaeda. These leaders are fully aware of Iran’s way of managing its wars by using local forces, or proxies, such as Hezbollah and Fatah Al-Islam in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Gaza, the Houthis in Yemen, and Al-Qaeda-affiliated branches in Syria and Iraq. Thus confrontations have become possible in Iraq and other countries. It would be a natural outcome of Obama’s policy, which let Iran expand regionally and constitute a threat to moderate countries including Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf states, and even to US interests and world peace.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.