ARAB-ISLAMIC SOLIDARITY CONFERENCE
18.00-21.00 hrs Wednesday 14th April 2021
IRAN’S VICELIKE GRIP ON IRAQ BEGINS TO LOOSEN
As President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association I have spent years objecting to the way Iraq’s future has been undermined by its theocratic neighbour, the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Iranian regime’s vicious meddling in Iraq has caused growing resentment and resistance from the Iraqi people. But there are now signs that the mullahs’ vicelike grip may be beginning to waver.
Iraqis are fed up with Iran. They once regarded Qasem Soleimani, the IRGC Quds Force commander, as a hero, for mobilizing the Iraqi militias and leading the fight to rid Iraq of the Islamic State’s jihadists. Under orders from Tehran, Soleimani led the ruthless Iranian-funded Popular Mobilization Forces in a thinly disguised genocidal campaign aimed at eliminating Iraq’s Sunni population. In the process, he oversaw the almost complete destruction of the ancient cities of Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul. Soleimani’s pretext of being the great liberator was in fact a lie. He was a murderer and terrorist and his elimination by the Americans in Baghdad Airport in January 2020 was entirely justified and came as a lethal blow to his Iranian masters. The elimination of Abu Mahdi Muhandis, the Popular Mobilization Force commander killed in the same air strike, has left the Iranian-backed militias leaderless and in disarray. They have begun to splinter, as Iran’s stranglehold on Iraq loosens.
Iraq’s prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, is also refusing to kow-tow to Tehran. He does not belong to one of the pro-Iranian political factions and since taking office in May last year he has enforced American sanctions, preventing Iran from repatriating the billions of dollars it earns from exports to Iraq. This has infuriated the mullahs. Kadhimi has to walk a tightrope, trying to edge Iraq away from Iranian meddling, while attempting to placate ardently pro-Iranian members of his cabinet. The situation is still volatile. Iranian-backed militias have twice this year fired missiles at US personnel in Iraq and they have attacked Saudi targets with explosive drones launched from Iraq.
Kadhimi has to try to stop the situation getting out of hand and his task may have become more difficult following the recent signing of a 25-year, $400 billion deal between China and Iran, the terms of which virtually turn Iran into a Chinese colony. Iran is now a satellite of China rather than an ally. The accord brings Iran into China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure scheme intended to stretch from East Asia to Europe. It is believed the deal will incorporate military cooperation between the two nations including weapon development and combined training and intelligence sharing. Strategically, this means that Kadhimi has to tread carefully when he opposes the mullahs, because in doing so he may risk irritating the Chinese.
The China-Iran deal also complicates American foreign policy. Where Joe Biden and his secretary of state Antony Blinken may have previously rushed towards restoring the JCPOA nuclear deal, the situation has now entirely changed. With China as its protector and provider, the terms of the JCPOA are obsolete and even American sanctions may lose their economic bite. The Biden administration will have to design a new paradigm in dealing with Iran and the EU will have to re-think its grovelling appeasement policy to a nation which blatantly uses terrorism as statecraft, even sending its accredited diplomats to mount bomb outrages on European soil.
Kadhimi’s ‘New Mashreq’ concept, which would cement an economic alliance with Jordan and Egypt, will be attractive to the Biden administration, although the mullahs clearly see such a powerful trilateral cooperation initiative as a threat to their hegemony in the region. Iran’s neighbours should become more assertive. They should close Iran’s embassies which they use as bomb factories and terror cells and expel their ambassadors. It is time that the mullahs learn that their proxy wars in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq will no longer be tolerated.
The winds blowing out of Baghdad suggest that change is in the air. Giant posters and murals of Qasem Soleimani have been removed from city walls. The Iran-backed militias are beginning to break apart. Mustafa al-Kadhimi seems to be asserting control and appears to be someone the West and Iraq’s allies can deal with. For 38 million Iraqis, who have experienced decades of war, insurgency, corruption and deprivation, the restoration of peace and economic stability is long overdue.