Protesters in Basra, southern Iraq, have stormed and set fire to the Iranian consulate which are a part of continuing protests which threaten much of the city and have, officials say, turned deadly. In clashes with security and police forces this week, 10 protesters have been killed. The protests have threatened government buildings and the headquarters of Shiite militants. In Basra, located in the heart of Iraq’s oil-fields, tensions have been agitated since July as citizens began to speak up against the endemic corruption which has resulted in public services collapsing and energy and clean water shortages.
The anger towards Iran, is based on the widely held belief that Iranian political parties have influenced all levels of Iraqi government, subverting the country’s sovereignty. The legacy of the U.S.’s removal of Saddam Hussain’s regime in 2004 has been a decade and a half of suffering and instability, with only brief periods of peace. The United States hoped that Iraq would become a locus of western style democracy and power in the region but Iran sought different ends for its neighbor. The Iranian motivation for its involvement in Iraq is to turn the weakened nation into a client state, extending its power through a region which already has seen much Iranian expansionism.
Iran’s influence in Iraq is economic, social, cultural and political. It is Iranian suppliers that provide Iraqis with the majority of their daily produce, trucked across the broader. Iranian companies are also being awarded contracts to clean up the trash in cities such as Najaf. An Iranian border official Vahid Gachi, say in regard to the constant transport of resources “Except for oil, Iraq relies on Iran for everything.” In the political realm, Iran uses militia and political groups it set up in the 80s to oppose Saddam Hussain, and to influence the actions of the federal police and the ministry. The director of policy analysis at the Doha Institute summed up the protesters anger over the fact that “Those who have been running the country for the last fifteen years have actually been Iranian allies.” That is, allies to a country who not half a century ago fought and won a war against Iraq that cost both sides hundreds of thousands of lives. Also, whose current leadership is made from generals who developed politically and philosophically in opposition to and form of Iraqi contest in the region.
When the U.S. led coalition left the country after disposing of the Hussain regime, it left Iraqis vulnerable with a politically and economically weakened state and no recourse to outside interference. From this weakness, Iranian influence dominated. Now, the U.S. have reinstated their presence in the region to fight against ISIS in the nation’s north, and so many fear a repeat whereby Iran is waiting for stronger powers to vacate before taking further action to subjugate its neighbor. But as senior Shiite politician Sami al-Askari warns the Iranian’s “have many means. Frankly, the Americans can’t do anything.” Currently, Shiite militia trained in Iran and trucked into Northern Iraq under the pretext of fighting ISIS while Syrian rebels are establishing undeniable Iranian military centres throughout the region, which are unlikely to benevolently withdraw once hostilities have ended.
Those in Iraq are tired of domination. It is a domination which weakens them and strips any practical independence their nation may have once profited from. Any reasonable international response to this undermining of democracy and sovereignty cannot stop at mere military intervention. The function of the state and democratic institutions must be purposefully cultivated as a means of protection from Iranian intervention both militarily and politically. This task becomes more and more difficult as time progresses, as the Iraqi economy becomes more and more reliant on its domineering neighbour. While the Trump Administration have made moves towards bolstering Iraq as a means of checking Iranian expansionism, this seems to be far too little far too late.
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