London, 31 Oct - Commander of the Iranian Quds Force, Major General Qassem Soleimani, was behind the operation that resulted in the recent takeover of Kirkuk by Iranian backed militias and the Iraqi army. This shows that Iran, without a doubt, has an extremely influential role in Iraq.
It is unclear how much of a role was played by the Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi, but it is certain that the big decisions were made by Iran to be followed in Iraq.
Al-Abadi is being criticised for resorting to violence against the Kurds so early on and they say that he should have engaged in talks in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region. Furthermore, Erbil played a big role alongside Baghdad in the fight against ISIS.
Why is Iran encouraging conflict?
Well, the conflict is undermining Kurdish unity and it is giving a boost to the role of the militias Iran is backing. It makes the militias look like they are fighting for unity when in fact it is sectarian fighting.
The extent of Iran’s role is so great that many now describe Iraq as an Iranian territory.
Iran’s tactics in Iraq are similar to the tactics it has employed in other areas of the region. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has a pivotal role in the Iranian regime’s quest for regional hegemony. It is the promoter of Iran’s interests.
In Iraq, politics are dominated by Iran where it has a number of allies in Parliament (dating back to the days when Iran granted asylum to Iraqi opposition parties during Saddam Hussein’s rule). Clearly, having allies in the Iraqi Parliament is going to make it easier for Iran to influence politics there.
Iraq’s military has also been infiltrated by Iran. The mainly Shiite Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) which was set up to fight against the Islamic State is backed primarily by Iran and is part of Iraq’s military forces. Iran provides it with arms and Iran’s Quds Force advises and provides it with logistical support. It is via the PMF that Iran gains its military leverage.
With regards to trade relations between Iran and Iraq, Iran is the winner. Iraq is very dependent on Iran after years of sanctions and conflicts. Iran is undercutting manufacturing and agricultural sectors in the country and is supplying a large amount of cheap and subsidised food products into the Iraqi markets.
The natural resources in Iraq are not safe from the control of Iran either. Iran is diverting rivers, damming them and hindering efforts to revive the country’s marshlands.
This is all part of Iran’s plans to expand its religious authority to its neighbours. It is going as far as to reconstruct Shiite shrines.
However, it is not too late for Iraq to slip away from under the control of Iran. The current Prime Minister of Iraq is capable of standing independently and he has previous stood up to Iran’s meddling. However, it is absolutely essential for Haider al-Abadi and the officials in his government to show that they are dedicated to the people of Iraq, not to the neighbouring regime in Iran.