For years we heard nothing but news of death, murder, destruction, and bombings from Iraq. Since the US occupation in 2003, Iraq has become the most violent and turbulent country in the world, becoming a compass of violence in the Middle East. I would not be exaggerating if I said that the cycle of Arab violence began in Iraq and may end in Iraq too.
Since the liberation of Mosul from the control of Daesh the situation began to change. The news of death no longer flowed like the Tigris River flows between the valleys and plains of the country and stability is a term that could describe the details of Iraqis’ daily lives, in Baghdad and other cities in the south, north, east, and west. This raises several questions, perhaps the most prominent of which are: has Iraq survived the death bug that it suffered from for many years? Has it rid itself of the sectarian complexes that almost destroyed the social and geographic fabrics?
Perhaps the answer to these questions has become urgent in the context of the broader and more comprehensive understanding of what happened and is happening in Iraq and of what could happen in the future. Iraq has not rid the country of the conflict of regional and international countries on its soil. Neither has it eliminated the reasons for the violence that threatens its existence, as the armed militias that rule the country are still present, corruption is rampant and the leaders of strife, including politicians, clerics and the media, are still dominating the scene, not to mention the chaos of arms that threaten the existence of the most powerful countries. No one other country has suffered from a lack of a state authority since its occupation in 2003 like Iraq.
Those following what is going on in Iraq closely are aware that files, such as security, sectarianism, corruption and weapons, are dealt with in Iraq like the volume on a television. You can raise the volume and you can lower it; you could even mute it. The interests of the conflicting forces in Iraq fundamentally determine the nature of the security situation and even the political situation.
It is not an exaggeration as some believe as the sectarianism that erupted in Iraq after its occupation was a foreign culture that was introduced to the Iraqis. All of the blood that was shed in the country was done in order to achieve the interests of this or that regional party. Even at the height of sectarianism the Iraqis were not sectarians. They exchanged homes temporarily until the devastating sectarian storm fuelled by regional parties who sought to benefit from it calmed down.
Iran is at the forefront of the control of the security scene in Iraq, as it controls the reins of the biggest and most powerful armed militias, who were, at one time, one of the main causes of violence and murder in Iraq. Iran also controls over 40 Iraqi media outlets, funding and backing them. These media outlets had, at one time, seen the Iraqis in the western and northern parts of the country as Yazidi supporters who deserve to be killed. Iran is also in control of hundreds of political parties and their leaderships, either by means of support or intimidation and threats, and each one of these parties have militias of an equal size that play roles whenever they are required to do so.
Yes, in short, Iran is in control of the security file in Iraq and it is the only one who can stabilise or blow it up whenever it pleases. Since stability in Iraq is an Iranian necessity today, there is no issue with it becoming stable. Today, Iran is facing the Trump storm and it is seeking to come out on the other side with the least possible losses. Moreover, Iran is no longer afraid of a danger or threat to its influence in Iraq, as it was in the past during the time when it faced the Iraqi resistance and armed Sunni organisations, and even when it faced Daesh. Therefore, its interests lie in Iraq remaining stable as this greatly benefits Iran, mainly in the form of economic benefits reaped by Tehran from its trade with Baghdad, which reached about $6 billion in 2017. Iraq is now the third best economic destination for Iranian goods.
Although Iran has almost absolute domination over the country there is a growing popular rejection of Iran’s influence. Despite all the money and men Iran spared in Iraq over the past 15 years, the Iraqis feel that Iran played a negative role in their country. It supported corrupt and sectarian parties, as well as brutal violent militias. It also contributed to spreading the spirit of sectarianism unknown to the Iraqis in the past, not to mention the failure of the successive governments supported by Iran to provide the minimum basic services that the people need.
Yes, the stability of Iraq will remain fragile, manipulated by the conflicting regional and international forces. There will be no real stability, unless an Iraqi government is able to achieve a balance between the interests of the people and the interests of the conflicting forces. This could be achieved in light of the presence of a strong popular trend capable of contributing to the existence of such a government.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 12 June 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.