Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (Presidency of Iran - handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Concerns over Iraq

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, October 7

What is the common denominator between the situation in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen? The answer is, of course, Iranian intervention, which sent all of them into chaos. In Lebanon, the political vacuum and civil war allowed Iran to empower and fund Hizbullah. In Syria, where the regime was on the brink of collapse, Iran extended a lifeline to the Assad regime and is now a partner in power. Likewise in Yemen, Iran took advantage of the collapse of the Ali Abdullah Saleh regime to push the Houthis to overtake the state, defying both local and international understandings and agreements. The next victim might be Iraq. Protests unfolding in Iraq in recent days have paved the way to complete chaos in Baghdad, and Iranian forces are already massing on the border, waiting for an excuse to take over. If [Adil Abdul-]Mahdi’s government defies the Iranian invasion, Tehran has enough votes within the Iraqi parliament to wield power over Baghdad. But will it dare take this action? Tehran has enough regional experience to know that no internal or external force will challenge it at the moment. The United States, which considers Iraq a strategically important country, has a limited military presence in the region, and its appetite for war is weak. Iran aims to use Iraq as a lever to pressure Washington and other powers to lift US economic sanctions, and to use its oil resources to finance its fiscal deficit. International reaction is easy to predict; Iran has already tested it several times. European countries have done nothing against Iranian conspiracies to carry out terrorist operations within their territories, so it’s even more unlikely that they will take action against Iranian plots in Iraq. Among Middle Eastern nations, the situation is not much better. Almost all regional powers prefer to avoid confrontation, including Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Of course, Iran’s aggressive behavior will eventually become an international problem, even for those countries that are trying to pacify Tehran. But I fear that it’s too late for Iraq. Unfortunately, Iran is not the source of the entire problem. The performance of Iraqi state institutions is not in line with the expectations of the Iraqi people, who have been waiting for improvements in their government system for decades. The Americans bet on the establishment of democratic institutions, but these failed to secure the Iraqi people with a higher standard of living, economic security and political stability. Instead, these institutions have been exploited by some clerics and clans to expand their dominance and spread corruption. Iraq today is facing a difficult test because the spontaneous demonstrations we are witnessing are unlikely to repair the situation Iraqis wish to fix. Instead, they will threaten the stability of the state and provide an opportunity for sinister forces lurking around the corner to overthrow the current government. – Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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