Iran-US strife highlights how global powers, rather than Iraqis, dominate domestic politics
Iraqis are concerned they might see more violence as the Iran-US conflict plays out in the country.
Three rockets struck the US mission in Baghdad on January 26, with reports of as many three people injured. This falls on the backdrop of rockets targeting Iraq’s Green Zone, which is home to the main US diplomatic presence and the Iraqi government, just five days earlier with only material damage.
That same day, Reuters reports that at least 75 protesters were injured in Nassiriya, 200 miles southeast of the capital.
The rockets fall in Iraq at a time when the country has seen rising violence in the demonstrations that started October 1, as citizens demand reforms to the government, which has been riddled with corruption since the 2003 US-initiated war.
Iraqis have paid a heavy human toll for engaging in civil action. In almost four months, close to 500 demonstrators have been killed.
There is still no new government in Iraq, with prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who resigned almost two months ago, serving as the interim premier until one is formed.
Last week, protests against the Iraqi elites emerged with increased strength since the US’s targeted assassination in early January of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force, responsible for the Islamic Republic’s regional proxy wars.
Hundreds took to the streets in recent days despite top Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announcing he was pulling his support for the anti-US marches.
The US’s targeted killing of Soleimani highlights the split in Iraqi society over just how much the world’s superpower should be involved in Baghdad.
“The US presence is one of the most hotly debated issues in Iraq. However, the question is not whether they want them to stay forever or not,” Muhammad Al Waeli, an analyst focusing on leadership and reform in Iraq, told the Media Line. “Rather, some want them out immediately while others think their presence is important now for training or to fight [the Islamic State].”
Soleimani’s death also underscores the degree to which foreign powers, particularly Iran, are involved in Iraqi politics and domestic affairs.
On January 5, just two days after Soleimani was killed, the Iraqi parliament, the majority of whose members are Shi’ites, passed the first reading of a bill that would compel Baghdad to formally demand the exit of the remaining 5,000 US troops. Sunni and Kurdish members largely did not show up for the vote.
“Not all Iraqis want them to leave,” Rasti Sahebqran, who has worked with humanitarian groups and the UN, told The Media Line. “Probably the majority wants them to stay. I live in the northern part, which is the Kurdistan region, and it’s all US-friendly,
“Only political parties that are affiliated with Iran,” he added, “are calling for the expulsion of US forces.”
Hasan, an Iraqi from the Al-Qadisiyyah Governorate in south-central Iraq who has participated in the protests, agrees: “The majority of Iraqis want Americans in Iraq as partners and allies.”
However, Hayder Hamzoz, founder and CEO of the Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM), has a different perspective.
“Most Iraqis want the US to [go], but some of them afraid to [express this] because the US balances out the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq,” he told The Media Line.
Analyst Al Waeli, however, contends that the US presence in Iraq might be motivated by goals other than fighting terrorism.
“Threatening Iraq with sanctions when Iraqis asked them to leave after they were in the country based on official invitation shows that their presence is not at its core related to training or ISIS,” he said.
“Many agree that their presence,” he added, “is directly related to their conflict with Iran. Most Iraqis don’t want their country to become yet again a battlefield for more regional conflict.”
If this were to happen, the US might become the primary unwanted foreign power in Iraq, a title currently reserved for Iran.