Iraq: Iran’s Interest in the Area
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend”, they say; but things were never that easy in the Middle East.
The relationship between Iran and Iraq seems to be one of the biggest ironies in the recent history. Why? Because Iran was an important actor in Iraq’s destabilization and also partially responsible. Looking back, it`s clear to see that Iran and Iraq have a lot in common. Both of them are multi-ethnic states, with a Shiite majority and both deny their religious minorities’ participation in their political processes; the Kurds and Sunnis are marginalized, and both countries control large oil reserves, important factor that gives them geopolitical influence.
Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was a regional power. Armed by the United States, Baghdad began a war against Iran in 1980 that lasted 8 years. The war claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and brought chaos to vast parts of the land.
Starting with the conflict led by the US in 2003, Tehran opposed the invasion, calling for a key role of the UN in Iraq’s reconstruction. In this post-war reconstruction, Iran offered support, fact that improved the bilateral relations.
In May 2005, a transitional government was established in Iraq, which was led by Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the pro-Iran Islamist Dawa party. Iran–Iraq relations started to improve since 2005 by the exchange of a number of high level visits, to help boost bilateral cooperation in all fields. There has been a conflict in December 2009, when Iran was accused of seizing an oil well on the border.
Taking a look on the real reasons for Iran’s transformation, it is wise not to forget that this is the result of the US`s Middle East policy, which brought a completely unnecessary war in Iraq, and not Iran’s clever foreign policy. The relationship between them has been a love-hate one for a long time; the old “friend” is now supposed to rescue Iraq from destruction.
What happens now in Iraq is actually the deep division in the Islamic world – and here we talk about Saudi Arabia and Iran. Iraq is just another battlefield, but it is the most important and deadly one in this war, because there is a real danger that this conflict could spread and also destabilize the whole area. In this context, it is politically wrong of the Iranian regime to prioritize the expansion of its power in the southern part of Iraq.
The first objective Iran had was to weaken Iraq on the military area, power that it had for decades under Saddam Hussein. Not to forget that this was important for Iran before the summer of 2014, when Iran started to provide military help to counter the militant advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) into northern Iraq.
Second, it also seeks to maintain a Shia dominated, weak and fractured Iraqi government, friendly toward Iran and which generally supports Tehran’s foreign policy goals in the region.
Iran’s third objective is to counter the influence of Western, Turkish, and regional Sunni Arab states in Iraq, by ensuring that all US military forces withdraw from Iraq permanently.
Finally, Iran wants to make sure that Iraq is a base for projecting its influence in the region. Having Iraq on its side is important for the Iranian-led “axis of resistance”, historically comprised of Lebanese Hezbollah, Syria, and Hamas.
What happens now is the consequence of the ISIL entering northern Iraq in 2014, fact that brought Iran in the position of offering equipment, trainings, advising and directing the Shiite militias against ISIL. In its intervention in Iraq, Tehran`s main objectives is to keep Iraq`s allied Shia led government in power and to stabilize its own border. In its attempt to minimize the tensions, Iran`s aid came in the form of technical assistance, air support and the commitment of special forces troops.
Their main aim should be to stabilize the neighboring country. Any direct intervention in this so-called sectarian conflict and any unrestricted support of the Shiites in Iraq could bring the conflict in Iran itself, where millions of Kurds, Arabs, Balochs, and not least Sunnis live.