Iran heavily involved in Iraqi power struggle

Iran has a good deal of influence on Iraq. As Tehran turns its back on Nouri al-Maliki, his days as Iraqi prime minister are numbered

There was a time when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was assured of the Iranian government’s support. In 2006, Tehran rubber-stamped his first election as premier. The Shiite Iraqi leader could also count on help from his Shiite neighbor in the fight against Sunni extremists. But now, Tehran is moving away from a prime minister who rejects national reconciliation, thus fueling the conflicts in Iraq.

On Tuesday, Iran’s national Security Council announced a change of course: the country now supports a parliamentary procedure to replace al-Maliki. The third term in office al-Maliki has been planning for since parliamentary elections in April appears to be beyond reach, with Haidar al-Abadi, deputy President of Parliament in Baghdad, likely to be the one to receive Iran’s blessing. On Monday, Iraq’s president called on al-Abadi to form a new government.

Since the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iran have been heavily involved in their neighbors’ affairs. According to Ferhad Seyder, an Iraq expert and a professor at Erfurt University, the influence hails from years ago. During Hussein’s reign between 1979-2003, the Shiite majority in Iraq remained steadily suppressed and many of them fled to neighboring Iran.

Political, military and religious influence

Tehran’s sway over Iraq’s development is evident on a number of levels. “The first Iranian influence in Iraq is obviously political. Iran has had a lot of influence on the Iraqi government, mainly it has enjoyed very good relations with the Daawa party, which is the political faction that al-Maliki used to belong to and now the new Prime Minister al-Abadi also belongs to,” said Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

Khatib added that, “Iran has been funding and supporting not just the Iraqi army but also a number of Shiite militants within Iraq.”

The third influence comes in a relgious context, with Khatib seeing a close religious tie between the Shiites of both countries. In the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala lie the two highest Shiite sacred sites. Hundreds of thousands of people from both Iraq and Iran make the pilgrimage there every year.

Iraq part of the Shiite crescent

Iran is nearly four times as large as Iraq and has roughly three times as many inhabitants. For Tehran, the neighbor to the west remains strategically significant. According to Seyder, they are a link in the Shiite crescent. This half-moon Shiite area runs from Lebanon, across Syria and then from Iraq to Iran. “This is a very expensive project. A lot of effort and money has been invested so as to retain Iran’s influence,” said Seyder.

Full article: Iran heavily involved in Iraqi power struggle (Deutsche Welle)

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