Iran must stop using Iraq as its backyard battleground
Iran must stop using Iraq as its backyard battleground

Iraq’s ‘Tishreen Revolution’, a now five-month-long protest movement, has exposed Iran’s destructive influence on the country. Increasing social discontent has manifested in the form of mass protests across the country that demand action against rampant corruption, unemployment, poverty, and Tehran’s infiltration of Iraq’s political system.

The protesters have come from all walks of life, but perhaps most interesting is that Iraq’s Shia population, traditionally considered by Iran as allies, has joined the calls for Iranian expulsion. 

For years, Iraq has functioned as a battleground between Iran and the US with its territory being used for proxy wars. This, along with the prolonged conflict against ISIS and Iran’s infiltration of its internal affairs has resulted in economic catastrophe in Iraq.

Nine years after the American withdrawal, almost two million people remain internally displaced, millions depend on humanitarian aid, and unemployment is soaring with  17% of men and 27% of women out of work.

Such figures are the result of public funds being constantly diverted to the pockets of pro-Iran militias and politicians instead of being directed towards rebuilding Iraq. To Iran’s strategic advantage, Iraq is left weak and desperate. 

Tehran strives to ensure a debilitated and non-threatening Iraq, while also expanding the Shia Crescent - a land corridor of Tehran’s religious and political allies through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to the Mediterranean. Because of Iraq’s unstable situation, non-existent sovereignty and sectarian divide, Iran has exploited the country’s instability for its own benefit and entrenches its expansionist platform. Today, Baghdad’s government coalition is backed by Iran to the extent that many of its militias and political groups answer solely to the Ayatollah’s call - thanks in part to lucrative bribes.

Iraq is the 18th most corrupt country recorded and 82% of Iraqis express serious concern that corruption damages their country, with 83% believing that corruption is only getting worse. Sadly, the only victims of Iran’s political purchases, and indeed its Baghdad-based enablers,  are the Iraqi people who suffer on a daily basis as government offices, industry and oil is appropriate by their eastern neighbors. 

Instead of Iran using its power for good, it strives to keep Iraq as its personal battleground for its expansionist ambitions. The US drone strike that killed Iran’s Qasem Soleimani in January brought the conflict between the US and Iran directly to Baghdad, proving to Iraqis just how dangerous it is to be the scene of foreign powers’ proxy wars. While many welcomed Soleimani’s death across the region, the strike also sparked protests against the US, both in Iran and Iraq.

In retaliation, Iran carried out a ballistic missile attack on US military bases in Irbil and Al-Asad, Iraq. Several attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone have followed since, with many analysts speculating more attacks within Iraqi territory, whether directed at Iran or the US, is only a matter of time.

Protests in Iraq demonstrate that Tehran’s divide and conquer strategy is showing cracks as Shiites and Sunnis are uniting against the ruling elite.
Iraq’s citizens are under constant threat of Iranian instigated violence and even since the start of February 114 Iraqis have been killed in Iran-backed conflicts. Worse still, Iran preys on the Sunni-Shia divide that has plagued the Middle East for centuries. By exploiting Saddam’s Shia marginalization for its own political gain, and encouraging Iraq’s Shi’a minority to rebel against the Sunni majority, Tehran fostered a resentment that all but prevented Iraq from healing following the toppling of Saddam and the American invasion. 

Interestingly, however, the protests in Iraq demonstrate that Tehran’s divide and conquer strategy is showing cracks as Shiites and Sunnis are uniting against the ruling elite. Younger Shiites, especially, have lost their trust in their religious leadership to create jobs, security, and wellbeing. 

While Iran has been successful in fomenting hatred, terror, and war in Iraq, times are changing. Iraq must have a government free from Iranian meddling that will harness its nation’s assets to improve the lives of its people - not to fund groups complicit in a foreign agenda.

Sovereignty is crucial here. Under the framework of an independent and sovereign nation, Iraq will finally be able to rebuild its institutions, attract investment and focus tax revenue on crucial public sectors. 

Iraq needs a broad and cohesive governing coalition of political forces to counter Iran and put an end to its increasing influence with umbrella organizations like the Sovereignty Alliance for Iraq. With this organizational structure in place, pro-sovereignty movements like the Najafa Brothers, the National Wisdom Movement, and the National Independent Iraqi Front can properly act upon their pro-sovereignty and nationalist messaging. Not only will these groups facilitate social unity between Sunnis and Shias, but through their pro-independence platform they can eradicate corruption, create employment, and drive out malign foreign influences.  

Only by securing their country’s sovereignty can Iraqis take control of their political, economic and religious infrastructure once again.