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October 22, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8984

Lebanese Writer: Iran Seeks To Intimidate Iraq's Sunnis, Kurds, Embarrass Iraqi Security Forces To Keep Iraq Under Its Hegemony

October 22, 2020
Iran, Iraq, Lebanon | Special Dispatch No. 8984

On October 20, 2020, the daily Al-Arab, which is UAE-affiliated and based in London, published an op-ed by Lebanese writer Khairallah Khairallah in which he discussed Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi's ongoing series of visits to some of Europe's capitals in relation to the recent security challenges his government is facing.

Al-Kahdimi set out on his tour just two days after reports of the abduction and murder of a group of Sunnis in Iraq's Salahuddin province, and the vandalization of the Baghdad offices of a Kurdish political party. On October 17, ten bodies were discovered near the village of Farahat in Balad. The bodies belonged to a group of Sunni villagers, including some minors, who were abducted a week earlier. The area is controlled by Asa'ib Ahal Al-Haq, an Iran-backed militia.


Kadhimi attending the funeral of the Farahat villagers (Source: Al-Hurra.com, October 18, 2020)

Also on October 17, pro-Iran groups attacked the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Baghdad after senior KDP member and former Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari accused Shi'ite militias of operating outside the law, implying that they are responsible for the attacks on foreign diplomatic missions in Iraq.[1]

Commenting on these two incidents, the writer suggested that the deteriorating security situation in Iraq is being orchestrated by Iran in order to intimidate Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds, embarrass the Iraqi security forces, and foil the efforts of Iraq's Prime Minister to restore his nation's sovereignty. The writer argued that Tehran is nevertheless failing to notice the growing tendency among Iraqis, including Shi'ites, to resist Iranian influences, as evidenced in the ongoing protests calling for reform. He further stresses that Iran's declining economy under U.S. sanctions haa left Tehran with little space to maneuver, adding that the outcome of the upcoming U.S. presidential election is Iran's last bid to help its economy.

The following are translated excerpts from Khairallah's article:[2]

"What Iraq is currently experiencing is part of an Iranian assault that clearly aims to prove that Iraq is a card to be played by the Islamic Republic [Iran], one which it will not easily abandon. The Iranian goal is to provoke the Kurds and convey to them that they are not welcome in the capital [Baghdad], as well as to protest the Sinjar agreement, which Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi recently signed with them [the Kurds].

"Iran seeks to make it clear to everyone concerned, including America, that it has the final say in Iraq, and that the Prime Minister has no right to make agreements with any of Iraq's populations, i.e. the Kurds, without its permission.

"Most importantly, Iran is responding directly to Hoshyar Zebari, former Foreign Minister and one of the Kurdish leaders, who called for the removal of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) from Baghdad, which he suggested should be protected by security forces, the army and other state agencies instead.

"All this is about Iran wanting to reinforce the role of the PMU as an integral part of the composition of the new Iraqi regime, which emerged in 2003. Baghdad is not allowed to be the capital of all Iraqis, including the Kurds. On the contrary, Baghdad has to be a city under the control of Iranian militias, i.e. the PMU, just as Tehran is under the control of the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij forces of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who uses the Revolutionary Guard to control every aspect of the Islamic Republic, no matter how big or small.

"In the Salahuddin governorate, a massacre was committed by one of the Popular Mobilization militias. It was meant to convey a message to the Arab Sunnis – that they are not safe in any part of Iraq. Moreover, Iran wants to prove, through its militias, that the life of every Iraqi depends on Iran; that Iraq and its security forces cannot ensure the safety of the average Iraqi citizen. Iran wants to embarrass the remaining institutions of the Iraqi state, the very same institutions that Mustafa Al-Kadhimi is seeking to restore.

"The two incidents in Baghdad and Salahuddin did not stop  Mustafa Al-Kadhimi from embarking on his European tour, which included Paris, Berlin, and London. The tour began in the French capital, where he met with senior officials, headed by President Emmanuel Macron, who visited Baghdad a short while ago. There are historical ties between France and Iraq. French companies know Iraq well and have previously invested in Iraq across various sectors, including oil.

"Surely the Iraqi Prime Minister is in an unpleasant position. It is also certain that there are those who criticized his European tour, saying this is a time for him to focus his attention on dealing with the repercussions of what the PMU committed in Baghdad and Salahuddin. Undoubtedly, he must continue to resist and not surrender to the PMU.

"Iran is acting through its sectarian militias in order to prove that Iraq can no longer be an independent state that makes sovereign decisions, and to try to make Iraq's Prime Minister eventually seek Tehran's advice on every matter, like former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki did.

"Mustafa Al-Kadhimi's European tour is part of his resistance, and comes during a very complicated situation in Iraq and the region.

"The Americans, who threatened to close their embassy in Baghdad, are clearly exerting pressure on the Iraqi Prime Minister, who was hesitant, at least until now, to go too far in his confrontation with the PMU.

"Al-Kadhimi remains hesitant despite that fact that a certain militia in the PMU, which he knows by name, is threatening to target diplomatic missions in Baghdad, to prove that state authorities are powerless.

"Should Iraq's Prime Minister have embarked on his tour of Europe, or should it have been postponed? This question will be a subject of a long debate, but things are often judged by their outcome. While waiting to know whether Mustafa Al-Kadhimi was wrong or right [in embarking on the trip as planned,] one thing remains certain,  and it is largely related to whether Iran is willing to deal with Iraq's reality with a minimum level of good faith, or if it will continue to view Iraq as a sphere orbiting around Iran, as if it were only an Iranian colony.

"There is a very important factor that Tehran is ignoring. The growing inclination among most Iraqis is to be independent from Iran, including among the Arab Shi'ites, who were at the forefront of the uprising against Iranian influence, whether in Baghdad or in southern Iraq, specifically in Najaf, Karbala, Al-Nasiriyah, and Basra. From this standpoint, the position of Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who is not hostile to Iran, enjoys popular support from Iraqi Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds alike.

"The picture is not rosy, but the situation in Iraq is not hopeless. This is due to at least one factor, an Iranian one. Iran, is trying to use Iraq as a card, one without an independent model it can export, especially since Iran's economy has become unsteady, considering the U.S. sanctions. Iran no longer has anything to bet on, except for the U.S. presidential elections on November 3. Who told Tehran that a deal with Joe Biden is guaranteed, and that America is ready to hand over the [Middle East] region, including Iraq, on a silver platter?"

 

[2] Alarab.co.uk, October 20, 2020.

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