Squeezed between two archenemies, the US and Iran, Baghdad is trying hard to save itself from future chaos if Washington attacks its Shia neighbour.
Iraq is standing at a crossroads, with a hawkish Trump administration making aggressive military moves against Baghdad's Shia neighbour and ally Iran. Any foreign military escalation along its borders could destabilise the oil-rich country that has survived two devastating US-imposed wars, in 1991 and 2003, and Daesh's reign in vast swathes of its hinterland.
With US President Donald Trump renewing harsh economic sanctions against Iran and sending veiled threats to Tehran's leadership, Baghdad finds itself in a tight spot.
“Iraq does not want to stand with Iran against the US. Iraq wants to be neutral toward the US-Iran conflict,” said Mehmet Bulovali, an Iraqi Kurdish political activist, who served as an advisor to Iraq's former vice president Tariq al Hashimi.
Tehran has had an enormous influence over Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government ever since the US pulled its troops out of the war-torn country in 2011.
Iran’s moderate Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, one of the architects of the landmark nuclear deal between Iran and major Western countries including the US, recently visited Iraq, hoping to pull the country onto the Iranian side.
He sought a meeting with Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country’s top Shiite cleric and an Iranian citizen, who refused to meet him, signalling Baghdad’s uneasiness with Iranian influence.
Trump recently deployed several hundred soldiers and a large fleet in the Persian Gulf in what appeared to be a muscle flexing show.
To calm the tensions, Iraq offered diplomatic mediation between US and Iran. “I will visit both Tehran and Washington in the upcoming days to meet with top officials in order to discuss regional situation, aiming to neutralise the current political crisis,” said the country’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, during a weekly press conference.
But both Tehran and Washington are yet to respond positively, according to political activist Bulovali.
“Before Zarif departed from Iraq, he said, ‘We don’t need this kind of mediation’,” he said, adding that Washington also maintains its silence over the offer.
Iran wants a pact with Iraq
To create a regional alliance, Bulovali said Iran is also seeking a non-aggression pact with Iraq and other allies in the Middle East.
“Tehran also wants to persuade its allies over a political agreement that if any one of the allies has been attacked, the other allies will come to the help of the attacked to stand against any US aggression,” Bulovali said.
But the US was quick to discourage its former rival and present-day ally from inching closer to Tehran. On his recent visit to Iraq, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought assurances from his Iraqi counterparts that they were "able to adequately protect the Americans in their country" and that "they understood that was their responsibility”.
But for Bulovali, Pompeo's message was laced with a threat that “if you collaborate with Iran, you could also be target”.