ANALYSIS: Is this the beginning of a new era for Iraq without Iran?

The military phase of the fight against ISIS is winding down after the liberation of Mosul, and the battle for the nearby town of Tal Afar is predicted to end soon. This has provided an opportunity for Iraq to begin distancing itself from the influence gained by Iran following the disastrous 2003 war, and returning to its true Arabic heritage.

Iraq was known as a melting pot where Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens lived alongside and in mixed societies for centuries. Prior to Iran gaining its disastrous sway across Mesopotamia, this was a land where the majority of Shiites lived and prospered with their Sunni, Christian, Yazidi and all other religious minority brothers.

Has not the time arrived for Iraq to regain its true position as part of the Arab world, and rid its soil of the meddling of Iran’s clerics?

Long-awaited developments

Iraqi officials have embarked on a new campaign of visiting Saudi Arabia and other Arab Sunni states, signaling long-welcomed changes. The influential Sadrist leader Muqtada was seen in the final days of July meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.

Only days later Sadr paid a visit to the United Arab Emirates, another critic of Iran’s policies, where he was welcomed as an Iraqi leader by a slate of leading politicians and clerics.

Sadr’s visit rendered a variety of measures by Riyadh, including launching a Saudi Consulate in Sadr’s hometown of Najaf, one of the two holiest Shiite cities in Iraq. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, known as Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric, his distance from Tehran’s viewpoints and calling for Iraq to practice openness in establishing relations, did not block such a proposition.

Muqtada al Sadr with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman in Riyadh. (Al Arabiya)

Iran, however, resorted to strong remarks against Sadr for his visits to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The visit was even described by a local wire as an act of betrayal to the Houthis in Yemen.

Iran’s support for the Shiite proxy militias, through arms, logistics and finances, parallel to advisors dispatched by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Lebanese Hezbollah, have resulted in the humanitarian catastrophe Yemen finds itself today.

Sadr is also planning a visit to Egypt, adding to the list of senior Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the ministers of foreign affairs, interior, oil and transportation who are set to visit Saudi Arabia. Despite investing in Iraq for the past 14 years, Iran has been deprived of visits of such high stature.

No future

Iran’s proxies, while taking the credit for much of the fight against ISIS on the ground, have been accused of law violations and refusing to obey the state of Iraq. Iraqi authorities affiliated to Iran have a very poor report card of being involved in corruption and sacrificing Iraqi national interest in Tehran’s favor.

This became a major issue during the second term of former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who some have even described as Iran’s “puppet.” Maliki is known to have close relations with Tehran and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself.

To make matters even worse, the recent departure of Majid al-Nasrawi, governor of the oil-rich city of Basra located at the southern tip of Iraq, has recently left for Iran. His departure followed being accused of numerous corruption offences by a government transparency committee. Choosing Iran as a destination has left further impression of him fleeing to a safe haven, and Tehran having a hand in Iraqi corruption.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi in Tehran on June 20 2017. (AFP)

Rebuilding cities

As Sadr and other Iraqi officials continue their meetings with senior Arab officials of the region, there are also major talks under way between Baghdad and Riyadh to establish a new alliance that would provide Saudi Arabia a leading role in rebuilding war-torn cities across Iraq.

On August 14th the Cabinet of Saudi Arabia announced a coordination committee to spearhead a variety of health care and humanitarian projects, including building hospitals in Baghdad and Basra, and providing fellowships to Iraqi students in Saudi universities. Opening border crossings and establishing free trade areas between the two countries is also on the agenda.

Riyadh should lead the Arab world in tipping the balance of power against Tehran’s interests in Iraq. The truth is Iran has not carried out any major economic project in Iraq from 2003 onward, due to the fact that the mullahs do not seek the prosperity of their western neighbor.

Saudi Arabia and the Arab world should provide the support Iraq needs after suffering from Iran’s menacing influence that has brought nothing but death and destruction. Evicting Iran from Iraq must come parallel to efforts of ending its presence in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

The main obstacle before the Arab world in establishing a coalition against Iran’s clerics is this regime’s meddling and the IRGC presence across the region. With Iran evicted from Iraq, the void should be filled by economic support by the Arab world for Iraq.

And with the US Congress adopting a bill against the IRGC, Riyadh must take the lead to have all IRGC members, proxies and Iran-related elements expelled from the region. Only such a policy will allow the Middle East to one day experience tranquility and peaceful coexistence.

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ANALYSIS: Is it time for the US and Saudi Arabia to combine efforts on Iran?

The new administration in Washington has chosen to stand alongside its Arab allies to voice a clear message. This is how this message reads: The regime in Iran is domestically repressive and resorts to flagrant human rights violations, and expansionist outside of its borders, wreaking havoc across the Middle East and beyond.

To take the next needed step, an all-out strategy is necessary to rein in Tehran and confront its belligerence inside the country and beyond.

Far too long the international community has failed to recognize the fact that the regime in Iran is controlled by aggressive fanatics that will literally stop at nothing to seek their interests, while knowing their internal status is extremely fragile.

Important lessons

While it is high time for the United States to lead the West and Saudi Arabia to lead the Arab world in this initiative, there is no need to launch yet another devastating war in the Middle East. The past 16 years have taught us many important lessons:

– The war in Afghanistan toppled the rule of Taliban and the al-Qaeda safe haven, and yet the lack of a legitimate post-war strategy allowed Iran take complete advantage of this void.

– The invasion of Iraq was unnecessary and again played into the hands of Tehran’s regime, providing it the opportunity to spread its devious mentality of fundamentalism, sectarian extremism and terrorism.

– The Arab Spring has reiterated to us that without an alternative opposition, no regime change will render any positive outcome. The current state of Libya is an unfortunate reminder.

– Most important of all, the international community is coming to understand that a policy of engagement and appeasement vis-à-vis the regime in Iran will only further fuel instability. Take the cases of Syria and Yemen, for example, where Iran has allocated enormous manpower and financial/logistical resources to create the mayhem it thrives on.

Highly-flawed deal

On a broader scale where Iran’s counterparts were the P5+1, thanks again to Obama’s highly flawed approach, the regime has been able to cheat around the nuclear accord. Tehran has staged over a dozen ballistic missile tests despite being strictly forbidden by UN Security Council sanctions.

New reports from German intelligence indicates further illicit measures by Iran’s operatives painting a very disturbing image. “Iran is targeting German companies in its bid to advance its missile program, in possible violation of an international agreement, and at least on occasion with the aid of a Chinese company,” Fox News reported citing a damning 181-page German intelligence agency report.

Tehran is actively seeking to obtain “products and scientific know-how for the field of developing weapons of mass destruction as well as missile technology,” according to the report, adding the mullahs are using various fronts to target German companies.

Further disturbing revelations regarding the Obama administration’s poorly crafted nuclear deal with Iran found little or no decrease has been witnessed in Iran’s effort to obtain the technology needed for missiles capable of delivering nuclear warhead as payloads, according to Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV).

To add insult to injury, with North Korea successfully test-launching its first intercontinental ballistic missile and on the path to its sixth nuclear detonation, there are increasing voices of concern over the possibility of Pyongyang selling more of its ballistic missiles, the technology or maybe even a nuclear warhead to Tehran.

With a windfall of billions of dollars flowing into Iran after the nuclear deal and oil sanctions lifted, Iran has both the money and oil that North Korea craves.

Bold, necessary measures

Washington and Riyadh should begin pushing back at Tehran by targeting this regime’s financial assets to begin with. Considering the fact that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, known as the regime’s praetorians, control around 40 percent of the country’s economy, it is vital to designate this entity as a foreign terrorist organization.

If not, its support for the Lebanese Hezbollah, Shiite proxies in Syria, sectarian groups in Iraq and the Houthis of Yemen, to name a few, will continue. And peace will forever elude the Middle East.

The international community should finally begin pressuring the ruling mullahs by standing alongside the Iranian people and their struggle for freedom and democracy. The recent presidential “election” and protests before and after have proven the rift between Iran’s population and the regime is elevating dangerously against the regime’s interests.

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, led by its President Maryam Rajavi, has presented a 10-point plan able to facilitate the changes needed for the better good of the Iranian people, and nations across the Middle East.

The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), being the main NCRI member, enjoys a vast network of supporters inside Iran and has blown the whistle on Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

It is time for the mullahs in Tehran to understand pressures will rise from the international community unless they succumb to the demands of the Iranian people for the future they deserve, being the democracy and freedom they have been wrongly robbed of for the past four decades.