by Mordechai Kedar
In March 2003 the forces of the international coalition, under the leadership of the United States, invaded Iraq to bring to an end the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein, and to rid the world of the danger from his chemical weapons, which he had previously used in 1988 to subdue the Iranians in the bloody war that had begun eight years earlier. Just before the West's invasion of Iraq in 2003, he transferred all of the containers of chemical and biological weapons to Syria, so that they would not be confiscated by Western forces, just as he sent his fighter jets to Iran right before the war of liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in January 1991.
Saddam fell, the evil regime that he established fell with him and the people of Iraq could finally breathe freely. Hundreds of newspapers, radio stations and television channels appeared, uncensored, in the Iraqi public arena. They were allowed to speak about anything, and to criticize anything, even the occupation by the West. For the first time in decades, the Shi'ites in Iraq were permitted to establish organizations and parties on a sectarian basis and even to publicly demonstrate their mourning on the anniversary of the murder of Hussein bin Ali, known as the "Slaughter of Kerbala" that occurred in the year 680 CE. The Shi'ites, who are the majority of Muslims in Iraq felt, rightly so, that the future belonged to them.
However, two forces worked against them: one is the Sunni population, the minority that had ruled the Shi'ite majority with the unsheathed sword of Saddam, the minority that lost the pot of gold that it sat upon all those years. And the Sunnis, because of their plight, appealed to the richest Sunni sponsor in the world, the Saudi Arabians, who opened their hearts and pockets in order to support their brothers, who had now become the new downtrodden in Iraq. And the second force that worked against them was the influx of roaming jihadis, who had escaped from the fire and brimstone that the Americans hurled upon the remnants of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. They came to Iraq to conduct the war against the infidels, both the Christians and the Shi'ites together, from there. "Al-Qaeda of the Land of the Two Rivers", under the command of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, sowed death in the streets, in the markets, in the mosques, and in the churches, in an effort to undermine the majority Shi'ite rule in which the foreign coalition had invested so much blood and treasure to establish.
To counteract this, a Shi'ite militia arose, no less cruel than that of al-Qaeda, called "The Mahdi Army", headed by Muqtada al-Sadr, the scion of a noble Shi'ite family and a good friend of Hasan Nasrallah. The money, the weapons, and the ammunition of this militia all came from Iran, and its people learned their specializations of murder and sabotage in the training camps of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. A short time after the Western coalition took over Iraq, their soldiers found themselves under Shi'ite-Sunni crossfire, between the Mahdi Army and al-Qaeda. The two sides fought simultaneously against each other and against the coalition, which had to defend itself against both of them. Nevertheless, al-Qaeda got special attention from the West, which almost totally eradicated it, while the Shi'ite Mahdi Army, despite the blows it had taken, continues until today to be an influential force in Iraqi internal politics. Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi was eliminated, while Muqtada al-Sadr is still alive and kicking.
It is sad to note that the war of the coalition forces against the Iraqi insurgency was influenced by political and economic considerations: the Americans never exerted real pressure on the Saudis to stop supporting the Sunni insurgency, despite its having caused many American fatalities, mainly because Saudi Arabia supplies oil to the Western countries. On the other hand, despite the many proofs the Americans had that Iran is involved up to its neck in the Shi'ite incursion, they never held Iran accountable for the American blood that was spilled in Iraq as a result of the Iranian weapons that poured into Iraq. The White House, whether in the days of Bush or in the days of Obama, was afraid to open a new front in Iran while the army of the United States was deep in the Afghani swamp and the Iraqi inferno.
The countries of the coalition quickly lost patience, because they saw no point in their soldiers running around in Iraq like chickens between unrestrained firing squads like so many targets. One after another, these countries pulled their forces out of the festering swamp, leaving those behind them to die, the Iraqis to drain each others' blood, and all the Iraqis together to drain the blood of the foreigners. At the end of 2011 the United States withdrew its forces from Iraq according to Obama's campaign promise, and left behind it a fragile and crumbling Iraqi political system, as a result of never-ending disputes between various types of groups: ethnic (Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen), tribal (the society in Iraq comprises more than seventy tribes), religious (there are eight different religions in Iraq) and sectarian (Sunni, Shi'ite, Sufi, Salafi, and a few Christian denominations), that have never managed to rise above their differences to become a unified Iraqi people with a shared national consciousness.
The Iraqi politicians are corrupt down to their bones, and are motivated by tribal, familial, sectarian and economic considerations, that share nothing at all in common with the good of the country. Many of them are accused of being involved with terror, to the point that Tariq al-Hashimi, the Sunni deputy of the Shi'ite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, had to flee from Iraq because of rumors and "testimony" that he had organized a few murderous attacks against Shi'ites a number of years ago. The security and legal organizations - army, police, intelligence, and courts - are constantly suspected of serving sectarian interests, and their activities are perceived among the population as illegitimate.
The failing political system in Iraq made it possible for Iran to exploit the weakness in order to buy some of the politicians, to eliminate others and to threaten the rest that they had better behave, according to the edict imposed from Teheran, even while the coalition forces were still in Iraq. The Iranian control on the Iraqis was strengthened many times over after the exit of the Americans, who are no longer on Iraqi soil to defend the fragile Iraqi system. The situation today is that Iran actually determines what is done in Iraq, and dictates its agenda to the Iraqi politicians, especially in matters related to the war in Syria.
The strength of Iranian influence and control on Iraq is evidenced in several ways, and we will mention a few of them here. About one year ago, Iran sent a group of a few dozen snipers to Syria to help Asad's forces put down the rebellion against him. A few of the Iranian snipers were taken prisoner by the Free Syrian Army, and filmed. They told in fluent Persian who had sent them to Syria and why, and the video clip - documented proof of Iranian involvement in the murder of freedom-seeking Syrians - evoked sharp criticism against Iran. As a result, the Iranians took its snipers out of Syria and demanded that Iraq send Iraqi snipers instead, so that in case they were caught they would speak Arabic and not Persian while being recorded.
But the matter is not limited to snipers, because in recent months many Shi'ites have been infiltrating from Iraq to support Asad in the slaughter of the Sunnis of Syria, and the Shi'ite ruled government in Iraq ignores those who enter Iraq illegally. But on the other hand, there are also Sunni infiltrators from Iraq into Syria to support their brothers who are fighting Asad's dictatorial regime with all their strength. The government of Syria is reaping today what it sowed in the years 2003 to 2008, when it volunteered to be the bridge which allowed the Hizb'Allah jihadis to cross over from Lebanon to Iraq in order to ruin the lives of the Iraqis. Now, the Iraqi jihadis are shortening the lives of the Syrians in the service of the Iranians. Iraq today is an inseparable part of the Shi'ite coalition under the leadership of Iran, which is fighting an all-out war against the Sunni coalition, whose members are Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Sunni countries.
Another matter that proves Iranian control of Iraq is the economic issue: since the Syrian economy is dysfunctional, Asad has no money to pay salaries to his soldiers and officers. So he asked for cash support from Iran, concerned that his soldiers would desert if he didn't pay them, and Iran ordered the Iraqi government to transfer to Asad tens of millions of dollars in cash every month, in order to fund the military, intelligence and the murderous gangs of "Shabbiha" whose job it is to keep Asad alive in in power.
Another monetary issue is the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran, in the context of which the dictatorship of the ayatollahs was expelled from the international clearing system known as "SWIFT", and as a result of this, money cannot be transferred directly to Iran. Customers who still buy oil and gas from Iran transfer the payments to Iraqi governmental companies, and these find ways to transfer the monies to Iran.
In Baghdad, in March of this year, a summit conference was held of the leaders of Arab countries, however by instruction of the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, all the Iraqi soldiers and security people were removed from the international airport of Baghdad and Iranians were put in their place. The one who organized all of the preparations for the summit conference was the most powerful man in Baghdad: the Iranian ambassador, who apparently is also one of the senior members of the Revolutionary Guards. It was he who determined who would speak and who would not, and as a result, about one half of the Arab rulers did not come to the summit because they knew who was behind it. The reason for Iranian involvement in the Arab summit conference was the desire of the Ayatollahs to show the world that after the miserable period of terror and death that reigned in Iraq during the American occupation, a period of calm and serenity has come to the Land of the Two Rivers, under Iranian hegemony.
It is important to note that the United States conducted a series of discussions with Iran before the withdrawal, about the way the country would be managed after the withdrawal, but these discussions did not bear any fruit because of one simple reason: the Iranians understood that the United States was under pressure because of the promise of President Obama to withdraw from Iraq during his first term in office, and from the moment that he said this, the United States lost the ability to pressure Iran on this issue. During the past two years, many Iraqi politicians went in pilgrimage to Teheran, while senior Iranians rarely come to Baghdad. This illustrates the relative power of Iraq and Iran, because in international relations the well-known rule is that the less important comes to visit the more important more times than the important one comes to the less important. (For example: how many times have the presidents of the United States visited Israel, compared to the times that the prime ministers of Israel traveled to Washington to get a little attention in the White House...) During many Iraqi politicians' visits to Teheran, agreements of "cooperation" were signed, meaning that Iraq is harnessed to the Iranian wagon. The Iranian general Qassem Sulaimani, who is today the commander of the "Quds" force, makes many declarations about Iraq, and many Iraqis are convinced that he is the one who rules Iraq by means of his merciless soldiers who assault any Iraqi they don't like. Not all Iraqis support the Iranian rule, and not even all of the Shi'ites want it, but those who oppose Iran risk their lives and the lives of their relatives: two years ago Mithal al-Alusi, an Iraqi Sunni politician and member of parliament, founder of the the Party of the Iraqi Democratic Nation, which calls for separation of religion and state, visited Israel. His visit to Israel and his secular agenda of political action resulted in several attempts to murder him, and in one of those attempts, two of his sons who were in the car with him, were murdered.
Iraq's coupling with Iran turns the Land of the Two Rivers into a spring board which will facilitate the continuing spread of Iranian hegemony into Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the Emirates until it reaches the crown jewel of the Arabian Peninsula : Saudi Arabia. The Ayatollahs dream of returning Shi'ite hegemony to Mecca and Medina, thus restoring the crown of dominion of the "ahl al-Bayt" - members of the family - of Muhammad, meaning the Shi'ites, to their status of Islamic leadership, which was stolen from the fourth Caliph, Ali bin Abi Talib, in the middle of the seventh century. When Iranian control of the Gulf is complete, more than half of the reserves of oil and gas of the whole world will be under their control, and then they will be able to have as much influence as they like on the world economy, and especially that of heretical, permissive and materialistic Europe. Iraq is an essential link in the chain that Iran is winding around the neck of the people of the Gulf and the world at large.
Is this why the world came in 2003 to liberate Iraq from the dictatorship of Saddam? Was this the goal for which Western countries sacrificed the lives of more than four thousand of their soldiers? Was it justified to invest more than a billion dollars - a thousand million - so that Iraq will become part of the Iranian coalition? Did the president of the United States take this development into account when he withdrew the forces from Iraq a year ago? Was the reason for the withdrawal to keep a promise made in the previous campaign, so that it could be used as ammunition in the present campaign, while the political and security considerations were - if they were considered at all - only of secondary importance?
If the president of the United States did not take into account the possibility that Iraq would become a satellite of Iran, it just proves his ignorance in the most important and critical matters relating to American national security. The problem is that there were many who warned him - in the media - about this possibility. Many articles that were published during the period prior to the withdrawal of the United States armed forces from Iraq warned clearly about the possibility that in the wake of a withdrawal, Iraq, torn apart and bleeding, unstable and weakened as it already was, would become prey for the Iranians. For example, the periodical Newsweek wrote this explicitly in October 2010, more than a year before the exit of the American forces from Iraq. But there were those who preferred to ignore these warnings, apparently because of the approaching election season.
What could the United States have done to prevent this scenario from happening? How could the international system have assured that Iraq would be rebuilt as a state capable of standing up to Iranian pressures? The answer to these questions was addressed by the writer of these lines to the State Department of the United States two years ago, in October 2010, during correspondence with one of the advisers that are supposed to understand something about matters in the Islamic world. In those days the president of the United States conducted a series of discussions on American strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the correspondence with that adviser was intended to suggest another possible solution to the problems of these two unfortunate countries. The solution that I suggested was based on revoking the artificial borders demarcated by the colonialists and establishing homogeneous, and therefore stable, political entities, by dividing up these states into their ethnic and tribal components, like the Emirates in the Gulf.
In the discussion that I conducted with the adviser in the State Department, he rejected the idea of dividing Afghanistan and Iraq into homogeneous entities out of hand, and claimed that there is a way to stabilize these two states on the basis of developing an inclusive national consciousness. In my opinion he is not the only dreamer of dreams in the State Department, because there are more than a few people who do not allow the facts to discredit their theories, and even when all of their beautiful plans collapse in front of their eyes they still believe that there is a way to revive them and to successfully implement them. It seems that these people have some degree of influence on the decision makers in the Withe House, and therefore everything that the United States devises in order to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan is good in theory but does not work in practice.
The time has come when Washington's policy should be conducted by realistic people, who will see reality in the world as it is and will relate to it in a way that will promote the interests of the Free World, people who will know that they must not surrender to the greatest enemy of the West, Iran.
Dr. Kedar is available for lectures
Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.
Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with the permission of the author.
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Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.