Certainly, there was liberation, as one of the fiercest of the Arab tyrants had been toppled, someone whom the Iraqis had been unable to rid themselves of, whose party had been in power since 1968. It is also certain that there was an invasion, as the foreign power that toppled him, in violation of international law, deployed its military in Iraq and subsequently shaped political life in the country.
However, Arab political culture found some comfort later on: not much had been left of either the liberation or the American invasion, which took the approach of gradual withdrawal. A deeply corrupt regime of sectarian kleptocracy and uncertainty was established. The tension had already ignited, by 2006, a civil war, and the kleptocracy impoverished the Iraqi people.
Iran, which went along with the United States in 2003, started to reiterate the Arab narrative: it is an invasion, not liberation. The major difference is that the Sunnis who fought the occupation did so out of fear of Shiite hegemony that they thought Washington had been standing behind, while the Tehran and Shiite resistance fought it to entrench that hegemony and replace the US. In this, the naïve and frustrated were employed by the capable and sinister. The wiliness peaked with the Iranian empire's scope being widened, while incapable gullies nourished ISIS.
As a result, the corrupt officials who came to control the country were excessively nationalistic vis a vis the US which was withdrawing and totally lacking in nationalist sentiment with regard to Iran, which was expanding. Ideological shouts in defense of Iraq, Islam and the region provided the cover for surrendering to Tehran to the same extent that it provided cover for both sides’ systemic pillaging of Iraq. At the same time, the rift between the sects and ethnicities was growing and deepening in such a way that the Iraqi system appeared to be a system of civil war that could explode any moment.
Two major developments shook this rotten status quo: on the one hand, the Iraqi revolution erupted in 2019 against the regime run by Iran and local mafias that had impoverished the people. What made this event more important, although it also demonstrated the weakness of Iraqi patriotism, is that it was the Shiite community which is described as loyal to Iran that rose up. On the other hand, Iran has been getting weaker over the past few years because of the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear agreement. The US sanctions were accompanied by Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, not to mention a subsequent fall in oil prices. Added to these two developments is the inability of the ruling elite in Baghdad to agree on an acceptable candidate.
Thus, a Prime Minister who is not part of the Iranian club or the Shiite sectarian parties was appointed. Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who finds himself tasked with correcting the formulas that have been governing Iraq in the post-Saddam era, i.e. preserving liberation while working to rid the country of the occupation, which is today primarily Iranian.
The fact is that Kadhimi's correction of the existing course is tantamount to ending Saddamism in reverse, putting an end to transforming the country into a theatre of conflicts and wars of an ideological guise. The only difference is that Saddam was deluded that those conflicts would benefit him and the Iraq he envisioned, while today it is beneficial to Iran.
Moreover, undoing Saddamism in reverse requires reducing the accumulated sectarian tensions that the sectarian powers (Sunni with Saddam, and Shiite after him) played a prominent role in entrenching. Here, it is not a marginal detail that Kadhimi’s relationship with the Sunni and Kurdish political powers, especially President Barham Salih, is excellent.
It is not a detail that the new prime minister clashed with those who break the state’s monopoly of violence and decision making, like the Popular Mobilizations Forces and in particular Kataeb Hezbollah. His lexicon is one that the Lebanese understand well because of the similarity between the two counties’ problems: sovereignty of the state, confiscation of illegitimate arms, refusal to transform the nation into a theatre of war, control of borders, halting public plunder, dismantling the sectarian-based administrative-appointment-sharing system.
At the end of the day, the ever-present pressing urgency remains to feed the Iraqis whose country has been pillaged, something that of course cannot be done without reemphasizing Iraq’s sovereignty and its control over its resources. It is not a simple thing for this major rich country to become hungry and without any political weight in regional and international calculations. Its problems are being dealt with in Tehran.
What Kadhimi is trying to do is brave and dangerous. For in 2005, we witnessed a Lebanese attempt to rid Lebanon of Syrian tutelage, but, and as we well know, it was tainted with blood. As for ridding Iraq of Iranian tutelage, it might be even harder, and a greater deal of caution and vigilance may be required, especially as US-Iranian tension rise to unprecedented levels throughout the region. The regime in Tehran, for its part, is not a rational regime that admits its weakening when it weakens and negotiates with others based on the new balance of power. It is among the regimes that arrogantly deny their weaknesses, painting a picture of successive victories. However, at the same time, it resorts to the most criminal of means to prevent things from changing.
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