The Middle East region appears to be in a liquid state, similar, to a large extent, to its situation after the First World War, with signs that the Ottoman Empire is collapsing, and the division of the region and its distribution among the victorious countries, specifically Britain and France. Today’s world is reproducing many details of yesterday’s world and there seems to be no room for any of the countries to withstand such changes for a long time. This is especially the case since several of our countries today seem helpless after losing certain elements of their existence and strength, whether due to the idiocies of their regimes or because of the influence of regional and international powers that have gained control of the region to a large extent.
Amid this, Iraq finds itself confused between these changing alliances and the fluid state of the region. This is because it does not possess the ability to draw a reality for itself that would give it some room to manoeuvre, nor is it able to settle its alliances and find a way to at least avoid the harm of confrontations, some of which have taken place and others which are being prepared for.
After its invasion in 2003, Iraq lost its Arab support, which greatly affected its policymaking. Instead, successive governments chose to resort to the embrace of Iran, as it is the most involved and influential party in Iraq after the invasion. Such resorting would not have occurred if the US, who practiced the most heinous invasion this century, had not allowed it. Everything occurred before the eyes of the American war generals and political leaders, as if this is exactly what they had intended to happen, despite the uproar from Washington from time to time because Iraq is resorting to Iran.
Today, Iraq finds itself bound by what Iran is committed to, whether or not it likes it, as no one from the successive governments managed to evade this dependency. Even the current Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, whose nomination for the position stoked reservations amongst Iran’s allies in Iraq, does not seem capable of deviating Iraq, even a little, from the path of Iran’s policy. It is no longer worthwhile for Iraq, even if Iran allows it, to grow closer to the Arab world, the countries of which are witnessing their own civil wars. Therefore, growing closer to this explosive war is not of much benefit or interest.
Iraq has involved itself in a conflict with Turkey that it does not seem to be able to face or bear. Meanwhile, Turkey, which seems confident of its political steps that allowed it to roam freely in the Mediterranean waters, overlooking Libya, Syria and northern Iraq, wants a special relationship with Iraq because it is an important market that major companies are salivating at. However, this clashes with the obstacle of the presence of the PKK, which Ankara labels as a terrorist organisation. The PKK controls vast areas in northern Iraq and uses them as a base for launching its attacks against Turkey, which has turned into a major obstacle for Turkey to strengthen relations with Iraq, which seems unable to expel this party. This is not because Baghdad wants the party to remain on its land, but because Iran, which is publicly allied with Turkey, wants it to remain present to preoccupy Turkey with it from time to time, whenever the need arises.
It can be said that Iraq is not besieged by neighbours that do not want it, but by policies that no Iraqi government seems able to escape from. These policies are completely attached to Iran, which imposed itself as a guardian over any government formed in Baghdad, despite the loud cries of the October revolutionaries in Baghdad and other southern cities rejecting such Iranian guardianship.
Talk emerges from time to time about the possibility of establishing a Sunni region, similar to the Kurdish region, meaning that the partition map, which appears to have not been torn apart yet, is ready. This is especially since this map will be applicable at the moment when the region is driven into an armed conflict. Perhaps Iraq will be on its list of arenas, in addition to Lebanon, and possibly other areas of Syria.
Iran, which is living in a difficult economic reality, may rush, at a certain moment, towards an armed escalation against the US. Iraq will inevitably be its ideal arena, and it may postpone this based on the outcome of the US presidential elections next November, in the hope that Donald Trump’s term will end and that he will be replaced by Democrat Joe Biden. This is because Biden will open new horizons for Iran different to those experienced today, according to Tehran’s perspective.
In any case, Iraq is facing difficult choices. If it decides to come out from under Iran’s robes, it will find itself exposed and facing armed militias loyal to Wilayat Al-Faqih capable of burning everything. This is especially since Washington does not seem willing, at least at the moment, to stand up to these militias. The past has and the future will witness more attacks targeting the American presence in Iraq, waged by state militias amid almost complete impotence from the Al-Kadhimi government to address them. This is an Iranian attempt to influence the course of the US elections in favour of Joe Biden and to embarrass Trump, who will think a thousand times before responding to those attacks amid a charged American electoral atmosphere.
It is likely that Iraq will pay once again the price of its pawnship to Iran and it seems that the details of the battle to escape from under the robes of Iran will remain dependent not on the upcoming American elections, nor the early Iraqi elections in 2021, but rather on the reactions of the Iraqi public and its ability to assemble itself again, which will be demonstrated in October. This marks the first anniversary of the start of its revolution, which still represents a challenge in drawing the paths of the coming days.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 18 August 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.