Iran spreading its influence in Iraq.
Two years ago, former President Barack Obama agreed to the Iran Nuclear Deal and told The New York Times that “Iran will be and should be a regional power.” He also said that Iran has “that ability now to take some decisive steps to move toward a more constructive relationship with the world community.”
Obama encouraged Iranian leaders “to seize that opportunity.”
Well, Obama, you got your wish. Iran seized that opportunity and has taken over Iraq. Goods from Iran fill up the Iraqi markets. Not to mention that Iranian militias had a hand in dispelling ISIS from Mosul and other areas.
Iranian leaders saw the opportunity to pounce when America invaded Iraq 14 years ago and ousted Saddam Hussein. We pull out troops and our influence and Iran kept pouring in.
As ISIS dominated the past three years, the U.S. government concentrated on that fight. Iran did as well, but didn’t remove its eye from the prize. From The New York Times:
But Iran never lost sight of its mission: to dominate its neighbor so thoroughly that Iraq could never again endanger it militarily, and to use the country to effectively control a corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean.
“Iranian influence is dominant,” said Hoshyar Zebari, who was ousted last year as finance minister because, he said, Iran distrusted his links to the United States. “It is paramount.”
The country’s dominance over Iraq has heightened sectarian tensions around the region, with Sunni states, and American allies, like Saudi Arabia mobilizing to oppose Iranian expansionism. But Iraq is only part of Iran’s expansion project; it has also used soft and hard power to extend its influence in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, and throughout the region.
Last April, Mohammad Bagheri, the Iranian chief staff for the armed forces, claimed that “The Revolutionary Guard along with the Islamic resistance [Shiite factions] in Syria and Iraq have become a shield protecting the Iranian people.” Al-Monitor said that this statement reveals Iran’s intentions:
Bagheri’s comments clearly show that Iran has a national agenda behind its regional presence and that its actions are intended to help spread its influence beyond its borders. Iran argues that imperial powers are hostile to the Islamic region as a whole, and that Iran is the center of that region because it is more Islamic than other regional countries. Under this line of thinking, it is natural for Iran to embark on battles beyond its borders to protect its interests, which are seen as Islamic interests.
On April 25, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iranian officials and ambassadors from Islamic countries, “The founding of a terrorist group in the name of Islam has spread discord and division among Islamic countries, especially in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. This is all the result of oppressive and ugly American and Zionist plots to wage war on Islam, but the oppressors in this world are more hostile to the Islamic Republic of Iran than to any other country because Iran is more Islamic.”
Iraqi Vice President Iyad Allawi lashed out at Iran’s influence to Reuters last month:
“Iran has been interfering even in the decision (making process) of the Iraqi people,” he told Reuters. “We don’t want an election based on sectarianism, we want an inclusive political process … we hope that the Iraqis would choose themselves without any involvement by any foreign power.”
The New York Times reported that “new television channels set up with Iranian money and linked to Shiite militias broadcast news coverage portraying Iran as Iraq’s protector and the United States as a devious interloper.”
If Iran can keep its influence, Iraq provides the regime with a gateway to Syria (Iran backs Bashar al-Assad), Lebanon, and Hezbollah. Analysts have said that Iran can easily “ship weapons and supplies” to Syria. The regime has already set up a checkpoint on the border with Iraq in the Diyala province.
The checkpoint’s daily traffic includes up to 200 Iranian trucks, carrying fruit and yogurt, concrete and bricks, into Iraq. In the offices of Iraqi border guards, the candies and soda offered to guests come from Iran.
No loaded trucks go the other way.
“Iraq doesn’t have anything to offer Iran,” Vahid Gachi, the Iranian official in charge of the crossing, said in an interview in his office, as lines of tractor-trailers poured into Iraq. “Except for oil, Iraq relies on Iran for everything.”
Signs of Iran in Southern Iraq
You cannot miss Iran in southern Iraq. The New York Times found that Iranian militias defend “the Shiite shrines in the cities of Najaf and Karbala that drive trade and tourism.” Iranian-backed political parties have the majorities in local councils. These politicians use campaign materials that “stress relationships with Shiite saints and Iranian clerics.”
The Times spoke with people within these regions:
If the Iraqi government were stronger, said Mustaq al-Abady, a businessman from just outside Najaf, “then maybe we could open our factories instead of going to Iran.” He said his warehouse was crowded with Iranian imports because his government had done nothing to promote a private sector, police its borders or enforce customs duties.
Raad Fadhil al-Alwani, a merchant in Hilla, another southern city, imports cleaning supplies and floor tiles from Iran. He slaps “Made in Iraq” labels in Arabic on bottles of detergent, but the reality is that he owns a factory in Iran because labor is cheaper there.
“I feel like I am destroying the economy of Iraq,” he said. But he insists that Iraqi politicians, by deferring to Iranian pressure and refusing to support local industry, have made it hard to do anything else.
Cleansing of Sunnis
Iran has no interest in combing power with the Sunnis. In fact, militias have faced accusations of “sectarian cleansing” in the Diyala province. They have pushed “Sunnis from their homes to establish Shiite dominance and create a buffer zone on its border.” Experts and Sunnis have said these actions have proven how valuable Iran views Shiites:
“Iran is smarter than America,” said Nijat al-Taie, a Sunni member of the provincial council and an outspoken critic of Iran, which she calls the instigator of several assassination attempts against her. “They achieved their goals on the ground. America didn’t protect Iraq. They just toppled the regime and handed the country over to Iran.”
Human rights groups have found numerous human rights violations committed by these militias. From Arab News:
According to Amnesty International, several Shiite militias have committed crimes against humanity, particularly against Sunnis. In Iraq, this occurs while the government remains silent. According to a UN report, the PMU continues to recruit children and force displaced people to join it. Reuters reported that Shiite militias in Iraq have “detained, tortured and abused” Sunni civilians.
“According to interviews with more than 20 survivors, tribal leaders, Iraqi politicians and Western diplomats… men were shot, beaten with rubber hoses and in several cases beheaded. Their accounts were supported by a Reuters review of an investigation by local Iraqi authorities and video testimony and photographs of survivors taken immediately after their release.”
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