It wouldn’t take a genius American president to show his Middle Eastern friends and adversaries that he runs the show.
As Iran tries to preserve its grip in the nation despite its deteriorating strategic advantage, a huge crisis has started in Iraq. It might be challenging to predict when strategic trends can be reversed. However, the United States should cautiously and discretely take this occasion to reduce Iranian influence by working harder to divert Iran’s focus and weaken its hold on Iraq.
Iran’s interests in the Middle East are centered on Iraq. Aside from Iran, it is the only majority-Shiite nation in the area. It has large oil reserves and may be used for smuggled oil exports. It is the final resting place for Baathist and American power. Additionally, it serves as a geographical link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Zagros Mountains. If Iran wants to be a regional force, Iraq must somehow come under its authority.
Iranian influence may be reduced by applying pressure to Iran’s proxies in Syria, as the Trump administration probably did, at least secretly. But exerting pressure on Iran’s stance in Iraq puts its regional strategic interests in grave danger.
This highlights the emotional impact and strategic significance of the U.S. assassination of Qasem Soleimani in 2020. He was the leader of the IRGC’s Quds Force, Tehran’s primary power-projection apparatus. Soleimani was an accomplished military, political, and administrative leader.
He gained the respect and allegiance of several Iraqi paramilitaries, serving as the architect of Iran’s influence in Damascus, Beirut, and Baghdad. Through them, he had a strong channel for influencing the course of the Iraqi state.
Middle Eastern Politics
Politics in Iraq are unstable. Sectarian differences do not only define allegiance, as is the case throughout the Middle East more generally. The founder of the Sadrist movement in Iraq, Moqtada al-Sadr, is a highly respected Shiite cleric who enjoys the support of a sizeable majority of the country’s Shiites.
There has always been a schism in the Shiite community in the Middle East between Iran and Iraq, Karbala and Qom. Sadr did, however, welcome Iran’s assistance throughout the Iraq War in his fight against the United States and the Iraqi government.
As usual, these ostensibly principled individuals are blatantly Machiavellian, choosing sides in response to threats. Sadr broke from his transitory partnership with Iran after the U.S. pulled out and the development of ISIS and positioned his organization as a counterweight to the Islamic Republic.
As Iranian-backed paramilitaries entered the Iraqi state, this new posture gained political clout. Formerly a steadfast foe of Coalition troops and a friend of Iran, Sadr’s Mahdi Army transformed into the Peace Brigades, an unofficial ally of the United States in the battle against ISIS and a military barrier to Iran’s advance into Iraq.
Iranian command systems in Iraq were compromised by the killings of Soleimani and Abu Mahid al-Muhandis, the head of an Iraqi militia that was affiliated with Iran. As a result, Iran’s competitive strategy has gradually begun to crumble, which has finally resulted in the present instability in Iraq. This disturbance started when Sadr’s supporters recently invaded the “Green Zone” of Baghdad, taking control of the Iraqi presidential palace, and engaging in combat with militias that were associated with Iran.
It followed a fiercely disputed election in which neither Sadr’s Sunni-Shiite nationalist electoral alliance nor the Coordination Framework, a group of Shiite parties sponsored by Iran, obtained a clear majority.