Following the May 12 Iraqi parliamentary elections, Basra, and by extension Iraq, witnessed a bloody wave of protests and demonstrations that resulted in the burning and destruction of many political party headquarters and offices, including the general consulate of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The violence has resulted in a rift between many Iraqi politicians and Islamic clerics who have strong ties to Tehran. Tehran has been swift to blame American foreign policy for the attacks, with protests meant to appease external agendas and damage Iraqi-Iranian relations.
In Basra, the US general consulate was shelled by rockets fired from unknown locations after weeks of the Iranian general consulate being ablaze. This resulted in the closure of the US consulate for safety and security reasons. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said America pulled all of their diplomats and the general consul from Basra city to prevent any clashes or kidnapping incidents that would put Washington in a difficult position. It is important to mention that Iran’s primary goal was to control Basra and Iraq’s south before protestors burned their general consulate in Basra. Tehran’s only tactic has been to remove the US presence in southern Iraq to strengthen Iran’s grip in the area.
It is becoming increasingly apparent now that Iraq is divided into many parts when it comes to the US vs. Iran supremacy in the country. Hence, Tehran fully controls the southern parts while the US has more influence over Iraq’s northern regions. However, the central part of Iraq, Baghdad, is the battlefield between the US and Iran. This tug-of-war was evident during the formation of the current Iraqi government which resulted in a clash over who would have more influence on Iraq’s next administration.
The eastern part of Iraq, where Sunnis make a majority, have strong ties and links with Turkey and Qatar, which further complicates Iraqi politics as those countries have strong relations with both the US and Iran. It can be concluded, however, that Iran has more influence over Iraq than the US does, but this has not deterred Washington from its main aim in Iraq – to shift the country from Tehran’s hands and put Iraq under US influence. The recent re-imposing of US sanctions over Iran’s nuclear deal is a clear message to Iraq to stop depending on Iran and to build new ties with US allies in the region.
Paying attention to the crisis that occurred in Syria, Iraq needs to realize that the US’ long-term goal is to cut Iran’s hands in the Middle East. The ongoing war in Yemen and Syria has led to a decline in Iranian influence in those countries with continuing US-Russia meetings and agreements. Iraq’s future depends mostly on the country’s military and positive economic relations with Iran. If the Iraqi-Iranian ties continue to grow, the country will follow the same fate as Syria and experience chaos as external influences jostle for control.
Lawk Ghafuri is a human rights activist and political writer based in the United Kingdom and the Kurdistan Region. He holds an MSc of Business and Economics from Coventry University.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany