The fall of Kirkuk clearly showcases the extent to which Iraq today is an Iranian controlled territory. And it demonstrates the currently unparalleled efficacy of the Iranian methods of revolutionary and political warfare
Daily Times, October 29, 2017 – The recent takeover of Kirkuk by Iranian backed militias and the Iraqi army clearly illustrates that Iran is now calling the shots in every important decision in Iraq. This whole operation and the withdrawal of the PUK and Peshmerga without putting up any resistance to advancing Iraqi forces were planned by the Iran Quds force Commander Major General Qassem Soleimani.
The extent of the Iraqi Prime Minister’s (PM) involvement in this episode remains unclear, but it is a certainty that decisions were made in Tehran and were followed by Baghdad.
There is a number of ways in which Iran gains from this current crisis. Not only does the conflict undermine Kurdish unity, it also boosts the role of Iranian backed Shia militias like Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq and makes them look like guardians of national unity rather than sectarianism. But as a nation, Iraq is at a loss as it has sparked anger against the federal government, especially it’s sizeable Kurdish minority.
The fall of Kirkuk clearly showcases the extent to which Iraq today is an Iranian controlled territory. And it demonstrates the currently unparalleled efficacy of the Iranian methods of revolutionary and political warfare, as used by the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) throughout the Arab world to promote Iranian geopolitical interests. Iran’s influence in Iraq is not just ascendant, but diverse and extending to almost every walk of life. Let’s have a look at various areas where Iran is dominating Iraqi arena.
Iran dominates Iraqi politics. During Saddam Hussein’s rule, Iran granted asylum to a number of Iraqi opposition parties and part of its ability to greatly affect the Iraqi political theatre today is linked to the fact that the individuals comprising a significant portion of the Iraqi political map formerly resided in Iran. Politically, Iran has a large number of allies in Iraq’s Parliament who can help secure its goals. Even the most senior Iraqi cabinet officials take instructions from Iran’s leadership.
Tehran has a presence in the Iraqi military. Tehran has been the principal backer of the mainly Shiite Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) formed to fight the Islamic State. This organization is now formally absorbed into the Iraqi military. Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) overseas and arms them. Meanwhile, the Quds Force provides the bulk of logistical support and advice to the PMF. In turn, Iran uses the PMF to exert military leverage over the Iraqi government to wrestle power on behalf of Iran, much like Hezbollah did in Lebanon.
Trade between these two nations is primarily unidirectional in favor of Iran. Years of sanctions and internal conflicts have rendered Iraq dependent on Iranian imports. The only place outside Iran where the Iranian currency, the ‘Rial’ is used as a medium of exchange in southern Iraq. Iran is dumping cheap, subsidized food products and consumer goods into Iraqi markets and is undercutting its neighbor’s agricultural and manufacturing sectors.
Tehran exercises control over Iraq’s natural resources. Iran’s damming and diversion of the rivers feeding the Shatt al-Arab waterway has greatly undermined the Iraqi agriculture sector in the south and hindered efforts to revive Iraq’s marshlands. Iran has withheld the water flow of the Kalal River, which flows into Wasit province, and of the Karun and Karkha rivers, which flow into Basra province.
Iran has been pursuing a long-term strategy to expand its religious authority in Iraq in many ways. Tehran uses financial and political leverages to ensure the primacy of clerics trained in the Iranian seminary of Qom. These clerics are loyal to Iranian ideology, especially in comparison to clerics trained in the relatively non-political tradition of the Najaf seminary. Additionally, by reconstructing the Shiite shrines in Iraq and consequently, taking control of their management in the long run. At last by taking control of the pilgrimage observances in Iraq’s shrine cities, notably the Arbaeen procession which attracts millions of devotees every year in Karbala.
Despite the great degree of Iranian influence in Iraq, there is still a ray of hope. The current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has the potential to be pulled out of Iran’s influence and act as an independent figure. This is especially true as he has stood in the face of Iranian pressures on some occasions. But still, al-Abadi government officials must prove their allegiance to the Iraqi people and not to the Iranian regime.
The Iraqi judiciary is also heavily under Tehran’s influence, seen specifically when the country’s Supreme Court last October blocked al-Abadi’s reform package. Efforts have to be made to clean the judiciary and make it independent. The current Iraqi leadership should also try hard to bridge the gulf with its Sunni and Kurdish minorities by establishing an equal method of governance across the country. Not all Iraqi Shiites are pro-Iranian puppets. In fact, many are fervent nationalists. Prime Minister Abadi can tap into Iraqi nationalism to combat further sectarian division.
The writer is a columnist for Middle-East and the Af-Pak region and Editor of geopolitical news agency Views Around can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Daily Times, October 29th, 2017.