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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Forecast: Increasing Isolation for Iran

After enjoying eight “golden” years of President Barack Obama’s all-out appeasement approach, the mullahs in Iran are feeling the wrath of isolation, with senior international figures lashing out at the regime in Tehran and calling for action against it.

British Parliament members from all leading parties registered a resolution discussing crimes of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) against the Iranian people and its terrorist meddling across the Middle East. The move calls for the expulsion of the IRGC and all its dispatched proxy foot-soldiers spread out across the region.

Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker called Iran the world’s greatest state sponsor of terrorism, saying:

Regionally, we’ve seen an escalation in Iranian intervention. Iran, along with its allies in Russia, has continued to prop up Assad at the cost of countless lives in Syria. Iran’s support to the Shia militias in Iraq threatens the interests of Sunnis and Kurds alike, not to mention the Shia in Iraq…Iran is arming the Houthis in Yemen, who are in turn attacking our Saudi allies and targeting our ships… Iran remains the foremost state sponsor of terrorism. It counts Lebanese Hezbollah – an organization that has killed hundreds of Americans – as among its closest allies.

US Senator Robert Menendez delivered a speech on Tuesday on his proposal to increase missile sanctions on the Islamic Republic and completely embargo the IRGC, explaining:

Many of us rightly predicted that an Iranian regime that prioritized funding terrorism over the well-being of its own citizens would see sanctions relief as a cash windfall for their terrorist proxies across the region. And on terrorism, we feared that much of Iran’s new economic capacity would be used to propagate violence…It is no surprise then that Iran has not suddenly transformed into a responsible member of the international community. Rather it remains an agent of instability throughout the Middle East, a nefarious actor that continues to undermine American national security interests and our efforts to partner with countries throughout the region working to protect civilians and build democratic governance structures.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated his criticism of the deal sealed between Tehran and world powers in July 2015, describing it as a “windfall” gift to Tehran. He said that the US can now take action against Iran’s financing, training and arming of terrorists, such as Hezbollah, Hamas and proxies in Syria.

House Speaker Paul Ryan suggested designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization.

The above remarks can and should be seen as preparatory measures for the next round of practical actions. It is worth noting, however, that in the world of politics nothing is resolved overnight. Each practical action requires the undergoing of a process in stages.

Unlike Obama, President Donald Trump and his administration are confronting Tehran, causing the regime to become nervous about the road ahead. This is why it has been attempting to save face. For example, the Iranian Foreign Ministry just blacklisted 15 US companies — a move that even Iranian media outlets are ridiculing. After all, it is obvious that  it is the mullahs suffering from a weak and weakening economy, not the US.

With presidential elections in Iran to take place in May, rest assured that the regime will be trekking very carefully not to light a spark under Iran’s societal powder keg  — and unleash an explosion of nationwide uprisings similar to those in 2009. At that time, Obama was new in office and abandoned the demonstrators to the regime’s iron fist. Today, Trump is in the White House, and has a very different attitude.

Originally published in Algemeiner

Iran increasing meddling in Iraq, planning long term

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Iran-backed Shiite militia groups in Iraq

A conglomerate of different forces are involved in the battle aimed at retaking the Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) stronghold of Mosul in northern Iraq. A variety of Iraqi security forces, Peshmerga fighters from the Kurdistan region, Sunni Arab tribal fighters and the notorious Iran-backed Shiite militia groups, known for launching horrendous massacres against the country’s minorities. American special forces are also involved parallel to the Iraqis, playing an advisory role as Washington claims. Continue reading “Iran increasing meddling in Iraq, planning long term”