Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) and Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdulmehdi (R) hold a joint press conference following their meeting at the Iraqi Prime Ministry Palace in Baghdad, Iraq on March 11, 2019. (Photo by Iranian Presidency - Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Iraq and Its Arab Role in the Heart of the Regional Conflict

Al-Mada, Iraq, March 30

On the eve of the 16th anniversary of the US invasion of Baghdad, Iraq has still not risen from the ashes and regained its role as a normative state in the Arab world. Furthermore, the Arab regional system, which was wounded at its core as a result of this invasion, could not restore its cohesion and overcome the political vacuum created by the war. The sequence of events since 2003 has shown that the downfall of Iraq was an earthquake that continues to shake the Arab world to this very day. Today, following the so-called defeat of Islamic State, Iraq has found itself fighting a new war: that being waged between Iran, on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia, on the other. Both of these powers seek to expand their influence over Iraq in an effort to enhance their own power in the region and curtail that of the other. At this point in time, the Iraqi elites must transcend the deadly divisions and external loyalties that exist among them and launch a national rescue campaign to save Iraq from a foreign takeover. On May 10, 2003, then-president George W. Bush declared “victory” in Iraq, and the neo-conservatives envisioned the first decade of the 21st century as the birth of a “new democratic Middle East.” Today, 16 years later, Iraq remains at the center stage of regional politics. The American-Iranian tensions and strife in 2010, the US military withdrawal in 2011, the rise of ISIS and the recent actions enacted by President Donald Trump show that Iraq is the place where great powers settle their regional disputes. President Hassan Rouhani’s latest visit to Baghdad highlighted Tehran’s preoccupation with Iraqi affairs and its hope of leveraging the popular Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to improve Iran’s status in the country. Iran’s ultimate hope is to use Iraq as an economic outlet that would ease the impact of US sanctions on Iran in May. In the mullah’s vision, Iraq is set to become Iran’s new regional hub, especially with its influence in Lebanon waning. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Egypt hope to counterpoise this influence by enhancing their security and economic cooperation with Baghdad. Of course, this exacerbation of conflicts does not contribute to the improvement of the situation of Iraqis. The revival of Iraq’s role in the Arab world will be directly linked to the establishment of a national Iraqi government that can bring together all Iraqi sects and ethnic components under one umbrella. Until then, Baghdad will continue to succumb to external pressures exerted by freeing powers. – Khitar Abu Diab

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