Iranian sabotage aimed at keeping Iraq divided

Iranian sabotage aimed at keeping Iraq divided

As Iraqis deliberate on forming a new coalition government, all of those who wish for a peaceful, independent and prosperous Iraq are awaiting the outcome. The GCC, for instance, has extended the hand of friendship to Iraq and suggested a full strategic partnership for the future. 

Iraq’s elections on May 12 did not give any political party a majority to form a new government, but they did produce some hopeful indications that Iraqis wanted a new, independent direction for their country, free of corruption and divisive politics. Voters gave the lead to groups and politicians who advocated such a direction.

The biggest number of parliamentary seats (54) went to a coalition headed by the cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, who is fiercely opposed to Iran and outside meddling in general. A pro-Iranian coalition came in second (47 seats), while incumbent Prime Minister Haider Abadi came in third with 42 seats for his coalition. The remainder of the 329 seats were divided among many smaller political, tribal, ethnic and religious lists and individual candidates. 

Any future government will have to govern through a coalition, but analysts quickly concluded that the results mean that Iran will lose its favored political position in Iraq. That was Iran’s conclusion as well, it appears. As the election results started coming out and Iran feared it might lose some of its influence in Baghdad, it dispatched officials to Iraq to try and influence the choice of prime minister and the shape of the future government.

Iran’s moves, combined with recent violence directed against anti-Iranian groups — including the offices of a member of Al-Sadr’s bloc in Baghdad — have complicated the formation of the new government. The longer that impasse continues, the greater the chances that Iran will succeed in derailing the process or producing an unfavorable outcome for Iraq. Dispatching Gen. Qasem Soleimani to Iraq to shore up Iranian support is a bad sign. He is no ordinary political adviser, but the head of the Quds Force, the most notorious wing of Iran’s military that has spread chaos and mayhem throughout the region.

Iran’s moves aim at frustrating the Iraqi voters’ will to rid their country of foreign forces and chart an independent path. Iran wants to continue to keep Iraq as a vassal state and use it as a springboard for its malign influence in the region. It currently uses Iraq as part of its land bridge to transport troops and weapons to its forces in Syria and Lebanon.

Iraqis want to reclaim their country from both Daesh and Iran.

Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

Unable to ensure its supporters won a majority in parliament to protect its privileged position in the country, Iran will probably opt for destabilizing Iraq to protect those interests. Keeping Iraqis divided is the second-best situation for Iran. 

Iraqis want to reclaim their country from both Daesh and Iran. They want politics free of corruption and loyalty to outside forces. They especially want prosperity to return and Iraq to again be an economic powerhouse. All those ambitions are antithetical to having Iran as the arbiter of their political life.

Iran does not have the will or the desire to help Iraq prosper and regain its role in the region. When an international conference for the reconstruction of Iraq was held in Kuwait in February, scores of countries and institutions pledged more than $30 billion for future investment in the country. Iran pledged nothing. Its Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javed Zarif, attended the opening but skipped the rest of the conference. 

Countries far and wide pledged generously in the February conference, but Iran was nowhere to be found. GCC countries and regional funds pledged about $7.5 billion in loans and credits, or 25 percent of the total. Kuwait pledged $1 billion of loans through the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development and another $1 billion as direct investment. Saudi Arabia pledged $1 billion in loans and $500 million in export credits. The Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, based in Kuwait and funded mainly by GCC member states, pledged $1.5 billion of loans. The UAE pledged $1 billion in loans, export finance and direct investment. Qatar pledged another $1 billion. The Islamic Development Bank, based in Saudi Arabia and funded largely by GCC members, pledged $500 million in loans.

Now that Daesh is on its last legs in Iraq, the future Iraqi government needs to face the challenges of peace, free of outside meddling. Security, stability, national reconciliation and good governance are the main prerequisites for a successful recovery. 

The outcome of the Iraqi elections expressed a clear desire to make Iraq whole and great again, to achieve peace, security and national reconciliation. In particular, Iraqis seek genuinely equal participation in political life, as well as in security and civil employment, for the nation’s various ethnic and religious communities, independent from outside interference.

Iraqis need the space to solve their issues by themselves. Once they have reached a consensus and formed their new government, the GCC countries have assured Iraq that they will be ready for strategic engagement, as neighbors and partners in building the new Iraq. Last December, the GCC leaders’ summit extended an invitation to partner with Iraq. In February of this year, they pledged to help Iraq recover and reconstruct. In the future, they will work with the Iraqi government to fulfill those promises.

All other friends of Iraq should do the same. 

  • Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs & Negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent GCC views. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @abuhamad1
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