Both Washington and Tehran have embarked on reckless foreign policies in Iraq, which deny Baghdad sovereignty and have led to constant instability.
While the world is enraptured by the potential fallout of the US drone strike that killed Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) General Qassem Soleimani, many are forgetting the plight of the people of Iraq, the country where any major proxy conflict is likely to be fought.
The narratives that have been emerging from both camps are ones focused on making their side seem like the “good guy” while their opposing number is a “bad guy”.
In reality, there are no good guys in Iraq when it comes to both American and Iranian involvement, as all the country’s woes today are directly linked to both their policies. Iraq now has absolutely no sovereignty over its affairs and is subject to the whims of competing empires.
The US started this mess
Irrespective of what else has happened in the ensuing 17 years, it is beyond dispute that the root cause of all this mess is the fact that the United States led an illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003.
There is simply no getting away from the fact that Washington’s machinations against the Iraqi people has gone back decades, and they had every intention to force former dictator Saddam Hussein out of power, but with no real intention of facilitating a truly democratic system in his place.
This is no longer a hypothesis, but a verifiable fact. Just look at the allies the US and Britain gathered in London prior to the invasion. They represent a motley crew of Shia Islamists, faux nationalists wanting to be the next dictator, and Kurdish separatists such as the Kurdish Democratic Party led by Massoud Barzani, a man who simply did not know how to leave the presidency of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government until he failed in his bid for Kurdish independence in 2017 and was shamed out of office.
Even prior to the invasion, the United States had subjected the Iraqi people to a barbaric sanctions regime the likes of which makes the current sanctions on Iran seem like child’s play. The sanctions and the corrupt UN-backed oil-for-food programme led to Saddam’s regime actually being strengthened while the Iraqi people drew the short straw. Corrupt UN officials exploited the programme and behaved unethically, meaning Iraqis were given substandard medicines, foods, and essential supplies that would have relieved their unnecessary suffering.
The combination of American sanctions with the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq led to the deaths of millions in what I have long-termed as the Iraqi Holocaust. This is no exaggeration, as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in 1996 it was “worth it” when told half a million Iraqi children had been killed. No aid or relief was sent to Iraq in the ensuing years between her comments and the invasion, and to this day there is no accurate record of how many children ultimately succumbed to US brutality.
Iran built its empire from American imperialism
Never ones to be outdone, however, the Iranian regime took advantage of the US’ patently short-sighted decision to topple their long-time foe that had them boxed in ever since the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.
Many of those in attendance at the conference in London cited above were either Shia Islamist groups who had fled Iraq and were incubated by Iran, or they were Sunni or Kurdish groups who had cultivated close ties with Tehran. Take for example Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the feared IRGC-linked Badr Organisation and a former cabinet minister. Amiri, an Iraqi, was actually caught on camera fighting alongside Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. Once the Americans had won the war for them, the Iranians simply inserted their proxies directly into positions of influence and power.
With true “patriots” like Amiri by their side, the Iranians could not make a wrong move. A succession of Iraqi prime ministers all had close and tight ties to the regime in Tehran, from Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to Nouri al-Maliki, Haidar al-Abadi, and even the current caretaker premier Adel Abdul Mahdi. Maliki in particular was noted for his bloody sectarianism that tore Iraq asunder and pitted the state against its own Sunni Arab population. Possessed of a pathological hatred of Sunnis inculcated from years of working with the hardliners of Iran, Maliki took actions that undoubtedly led to the rise of Daesh militants.
Iran has exploited its connections with senior Iraqi political, economic, and military and security leaders to establish Iraq as undoubtedly one of the colonies of Iran’s nascent empire. Using spycraft and clever strategy, leaked intelligence cables show how Iran was able to dominate Iraq through a carefully procured network of actors who are ideologically committed to Tehran’s regional ambitions of establishing the so-called Shia Crescent of influence stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea.
Any fair and balanced examination of the roles played by both the United States and Iran will inevitably conclude that the country has become a nightmare of their joint design. Talk of democracy in Iraq swiftly shrivels away in the face of anti-Iran, pro-democracy Iraqi demonstrators being killed in their hundreds on the orders of the IRGC. Protesters are also on the streets to demonstrate against the sectarian quota-based Iraqi political process that was first instituted by the US occupation and has since repeatedly (and intentionally) failed them.
The tragedy of Iraq today is a joint enterprise by both Washington and Tehran, and it will take decades and hundreds of billions of dollars to repair the damage wrought by these two imperial powers. It is the Iraqi people who deserve global attention now, and solutions on how to prevent their country from becoming yet another proxy war zone.
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