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Let’s stop pretending Iran is anything but an imperialist power

  • Tallha Abdulrazaq
  • 19 Nov 2019

The leaked Iranian cables show that Iran has outmanoeuvred the US in Iraq, but the tragedy is that Iraqis are perpetual victims of imperialism.

An Iraqi man walks past a mural painting in the capital Baghdad's Tahrir Square during ongoing anti-government demonstrations on November 14, 2019. ( Ahmad al Rubaye/AFP / Getty Images )

Yesterday, a veritable treasure trove of Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) leaked intelligence cables were laid bare by The Intercept and The New York Times, leaving officials in Tehran and their apologists around the world shell shocked. 

The Iranian version of the Israeli Hasbara on social media was awfully muted as they scrambled for cover, attempting to decipher precisely which way they should spin the old and tired record of “resistance” this time.

But while the leaks do not (so far, as there is more to come) show too much that is new, what they do achieve beautifully in confirming what many have been criticising and talking about for the better part of 17 years now – Iran is an imperialist power.

Iran’s conquest of Iraq

Iran has always harboured regional hegemonical ambitions, even during the days of the authoritarian secular Pahlavi dynasty that was ultimately overthrown by the religious totalitarianism of Shia cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.

Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was one of the most trusted clients of the United States and was one of the few world leaders who had almost full access to the American armoury. He used this military clout to invade three Emirati islands still held by Iran today of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa, arm the Kurds in Iraq while oppressing his own Kurdish population, and forced Iraq into the humiliating Algiers Accord in 1975 that compelled Baghdad to cede half of its sovereignty over the strategic Shatt al Arab waterway to Tehran.

However, the Shah’s exploits never reached the heady heights of modern-day Iranian imperialism. The Iranian constitution established by the Khomeinist regime declared that the aims of the Islamic Revolution must be continued both “at home and abroad”

While the Iran-Iraq War that ended in 1988 is instructive in how Khomeini attempted and failed to realise that ambition of spreading the revolution abroad, it is Iran’s conquest of Iraq by defeating the United States who had invaded illegally in 2003 that is most interesting.

As the leaks show, American incompetence under both the Bush and Obama administrations directly led to Washington’s loss of power and influence in the country they decimated. 

Even the US acknowledges that the greatest beneficiary of American interventionism in Iraq was actually Iran.

MOIS’ cables show how Iranian intelligence scooped up former CIA agents and intelligence assets who were abandoned and left to fend for themselves after the Americans withdrew in 2011. These agents, fearing death at Iran’s hands, decided to switch sides and gave up all manner of information on CIA safehouses, their training, and vital intelligence they had shared with their American handlers.

Apart from this, the US also failed to outmanoeuvre Iran when it came to making sure they had the right men and women in the right places to exert influence and control. Iran deftly used its Shia credentials to recruit Iraqi agents who could occupy ministerial posts and military commands, many of whom it had recruited during the Iran-Iraq War. 

Contemporary Iraq’s perennial parliamentarian, cabinet minister, and militia commander Hadi al Ameri, the feared leader of the sectarian Badr Organisation, was filmed fighting alongside his Iranian masters during the Iran-Iraq War. He is now one of the most influential people in the country.

One particularly noteworthy cable is from an operative reporting on an Iraqi agent who worked for now-retired Lieutenant General Hatem al Maksusi, former head of military intelligence in the Iraqi Ministry of Defence. 

According to the cable, Maksusi sent his representative to the Iranians in 2014 just as the Daesh threat was building up and said: “We are at your service…We are Shia and have a common enemy…All of the Iraqi Army’s intelligence – consider it yours. Tell me whatever you need and I will guarantee it for you.”

The gravity of how dangerous this is to Iraqi national security and sovereignty is perhaps best illustrated by likening it to the head of the CIA handing over all his intelligence to the Russians. Yet Iran always had access to such men who would willingly sell themselves to a foreign government.

Iraq protests a backlash against Iranian imperialism

Of course, it is worth bearing in mind that both the United States and Iran had imperial designs over Iraq and it is by their combined efforts that the country has gone from one sad story of Baathist repression to a post-2003 dystopian mockery of democracy with catastrophic levels of sectarian violence, corruption, and unprecedented human rights abuses. 

It is by no means a shame that America lost to Iran – it is a tragedy for Iraqis that either of them would win.

The loss of Iraq to Iran has also had catastrophic results for the people of Syria, as Iranian power has continued to be projected through Iraqi territory into Syria. Iraqi Shia militants and zealots have been supported and trained by Iran and then sent to shed blood in the name of the Islamic Revolution by killing untold thousands of Syrians who dared to resist the tyranny of dictator Bashar al Assad.

Domestically, however, Iraqis have now once again risen up and have taken action against the federal government, blaming them for the rampant corruption and also for selling out Iraqi sovereignty to the Iranians. 

Iran has become a direct feature in these protests, with predominantly Shia Arabs demonstrating against Tehran’s excesses in the country involving accusations of directing militias to kill protesters, smearing the demonstrations as being a Zionist-American-Saudi conspiracy, and overseeing and supporting the Iraqi government that has perpetrated horrific abuses against its own people.

Protests have been ongoing for more than six weeks, despite the brutality utilised by the security services and pro-Iran militants, and this sustained civil disobedience can only be because Iraqis, irrespective of their ethno-sectarian background, want their country to work for them and not for someone else. 

While the US is primarily to blame for the situation Iraq finds itself in today, its defeat at the hands of the Iranians means that the main occupier that Iraqis see today are the Iranians. 

Just as the Americans failed to tame and control Iraq, so too will Iran find itself in a quagmire that it cannot extract itself from by relying on appeals to “resistance”. 

As far as Iraqis are concerned, it is the Iranian invasion of Iraq that needs to be resisted.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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