Iran’s future, Iraq’s elections and their impact on the region


In a recent panel on the current protest and problems in Iran at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC a common theme was evident: Iran is in a pre-revolutionary stage.  The discussion then turned to how long it would take for the regime to change its behavior or to fall altogether.

There is no doubt Iran is building to a major shift, but in what direction.

Over the past few years, there have been a number of popular uprisings in Iran, but as the panel pointed out, after each one, the regime learned better how to react to blunt the outrage. 

The bottom line, however, as noted by all, is the loyalty of security forces. It will be remembered it was the lost support of the military that ultimately led to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. 

Now, forty years later, the shouts from the streets are for reform, jobs, and increasingly plaintive calls for Reva Shah. The degree to which the Iranian people will continue to demonstrate and to which the regime will counter is the issue as to the future of the Islamic Republic.

The one question, asked by Mike Pregent, a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute that was more difficult to answer was, what could the US do to help the opposition?  The answer will differ depending on the anticipated end the US is looking to influence. The range of ‘end state’ goes from regime behavior modification to total regime change.  

The official US position is that they are hoping, through US action, to influence the regime to change its behavior while stating the future of the regime is up to the Iranian people. No one, of course, believes this and understands that the US, most likely, is looking to topple the government. The panelists, however, were careful to avoid the term ‘regime change’ as it comes with a lot of baggage when uttered by the US.

One area of agreement was that the US leaving the Iran Deal and the re-imposing of sanctions was the right move and has increased pressure on the regime. It has led to the continued downward spiral of the Rial and the decreasing amount of consumer goods available to a restive population.

While the continuing economic turmoil has caught the attention of the regime, it has not deterred them from continuing to export the Islamic revolution and work toward total Iranian hegemony in the region. While the protests continue, there is little to no coverage in the US mass media. The fight between Trump and Erdogan takes up most of the regional coverage.

What may now come to pass is what the US fears, a total Iranian takeover of the Iraqi Government. While it is no secret that Tehran has been pulling the strings in Baghdad for years, the result of the latest election, as certified by the Supreme Court, gives the Iranian faction a clear advantage.

In a second panel at the Hudson Institute, which looked at Iraq, the consensus was that the Kurds, as well as the Sunni, will be bystanders in the coming formation of a government. 

With the very pro-Iranian alliance of Fatih, Nasr, and State of Law holding 114 seats out of 165 needed to form a government, coaxing a few of the smaller parties to join would not be difficult, would split the minority, and give them full reign over the government. The next largest block consists of Sadr’s Sairoon list, al-Hikma, and Wataniya, currently with 94 seats. 

This last alliance may well serve as a true opposition party but will still be a Shia party opposing a Shia party.

As stated by Bilal Wahab of the Washington Institute, this is all intra-Shia rivalry, not an Iraqi nationalist party.  The Kurds are the next largest block, but are divided and will be more so as the KRG election moves closer in September.

The United States and the West have failed to acknowledge the reality on the ground and continue to look for a PM who will be “their guy in Baghdad.” It must also be recognized that a majority of Iraqis did not vote in the last election and that the platforms on which the current parties have run have long ago ceased to be relevant. With 60 percent of Iraqis under the age of 30, they are looking for economic stability and education.

They still acknowledge a need for security.  Neither the Iraqi Army nor the Kurdish Peshmerga are capable of providing the security needed, but stability must be ensured for Iraq to move forward. The reasons behind this lapse of security are that the federal government decimated the national army leadership and, in the case of the Kurds, Baghdad refuses to provide adequate arms and equipment from the west.

As the Trump administration enforces the sanctions on Iran, further fueling the protests, and as its Iraqi partners require more funds from Tehran, a perfect storm is brewing. With both the Turkish and Iranian economies failing and oil prices rising, both Baghdad and Erbil should find common ground, which would require working toward a national goal and ignoring parochial issues. 

The best outcome may be that Iraqi parties fail to reach an accord within the 90-day timeframe, and new elections be held. Maybe then, Iran may finally lose its grip and Iraqis regain control of the government.

Paul Davis is a Senior Fellow at Soran University and a retired US Army military intelligence officer. He has been a consultant to the American intelligence community specializing in the Middle East with a concentration on Kurdish affairs. Currently, he is the President of the consulting firm JANUS Think in Washington DC.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.

Editing by Nadia Riva