The test of influence… how Iran deals with the political crisis in the Iraqi arena

Despite the tools that Iran possessed to influence the Iraqi arena in recent years, the issue has differed in its handling of the current political crisis that has worsened in Iraq since the announcement of the results of the parliamentary elections in October 2021, which put Iran’s influence to the test. Due to the decline of the traditional political forces allied to Tehran and the rise of other powers. Clashes broke out between Shia political forces, represented by the Sadrist movement, which began to launch anti-Iranian slogans in its protests and described itself as unaffiliated with the outside, and “coordination framework” forces known for their close relations with Tehran.

The decline in Tehran’s relations with some Iraqi forces is likely to negatively affect Iran’s role in Iraq, which represents Tehran’s “economic lung” in light of tight Western sanctions, an outlet for passage to both Syria and to Lebanon, and a scenario for managing conflicts and settling accounts with the United States.

Positions advertised:

The positions of the Iranian side, whether official or unofficial, have varied with respect to the evolution of the current crisis in Iraq, and are as follows:

1- Official positions calling for dialogue between the parties to the Iraqi crisis:

A- The Iranian presidency: The Iranian president, Ibrahim Raisi, clarified his country’s official position on the progress in the process of forming the Iraqi government during his meeting with the president of the Iraqi Parliament, Muhammad al-Halbousi, in Tehran last April, when he stated that “Iran hopes that the formation of the new government in Iraq will be completed as soon as possible. Maybe.” As the crisis worsened and protesters from the Sadrist movement stormed Baghdad’s Green Zone, and during a phone call between Raisi and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazemi last August, Raisi stressed that all major political currents in Iraq they must agree through dialogue to reach a way out of the existing political crisis. By this, it signifies the need for dialogue between Tehran’s allies and the political forces in conflict; The Sadrist movement and the coordination framework, as the main actors in the crisis.

B- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran: When the protests of the Sadrist movement broke out and the political crisis in Iraq worsened, the statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran on August 1 went so far as to indicate that “the current events in Iraq are an internal matter, and the Iraqi parties and currents are capable of overcoming this stage.” In mid-August, the spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Nasser Kanaani, made it clear that his country avoided meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs, but urged all parties to engage in dialogue to get out of the current political crisis in the country and seek to zoom in on the views.

After the conflict between the Sadrist movement and the coordination framework intensified, the Iranian Foreign Ministry stated in a statement: “We are closely following the events in Iraq with concern, and we are trying to unite the different points of view. view of the Iraqi factions”. During the bloody events in the Green Zone at the end of last August, the Iranian Foreign Ministry stated that “the only way out of the current crisis in Iraq is through dialogue, respect for legal and political institutions, and adherence to the Constitution. and political mechanisms”, and called on the forces and political parties in Iraq to speed up the formation of the new government, as announced. On the decision to reopen the border with Iraq following the decision of the leader of the Sadrist movement on August 30, remove the demonstrators from the Iraqi parliament.

2- Warnings of the negative repercussions of the crisis: These positions were represented in Tehran’s temporary Friday Friday sermon statement by Muhammad Javad Haj Ali Akbari on September 2, that the Iranian government hopes to form a stable government in Iraq, and that “Tehran, as before, will not hesitate to provide any assistance to bring security, well-being and happiness to the Iraqi people,” noting that the recent events in Iraq almost had their effects on the “Visit Arbaeen” ceremony.

There were other statements that were different from the declared official Iranian positions on the crisis in Iraq. For example, Sayed Jalal Sadatian, the former Iranian ambassador to Britain, predicted that Iraq could see three hot-spot scenarios played out in the assassination and elimination of Muqtada al. -Sadr, or the withdrawal of the Iraqi government, or the continuation of the clashes and the escalation between the opposing political forces until the defeat of one of the parties and the victory of the other.

3- Various interpretations in the Iranian media: The government formation crisis in Iraq has received a great deal of attention from the Iranian media, especially with the intensification of the political conflict and the Green Zone events last August. The Iranian media was suspicious of these events, fearing its negative repercussions in Tehran. Conservative media viewed Muqtada al-Sadr’s position as a “change in attitudes”. it was carried out in the name of the United States and that whoever carried it out is implementing his wishes in Iraq. The daily “Watan Emrouz”, close to the Revolutionary Guards, also stated that the Sadrist movement and Mustafa Al-Kazemi were behind the failure to form a government in Iraq, and that the entry of the Sadrist movement’s demonstrators into the “Green Zone” coordinated with Al-Kazemi; This is to prevent the coordination framework from forming the new government. On the other hand, the reformist media went on to warn of the consequences of foreign interference in Iraq, underlining that Iran’s political presence in this country would provoke a torrent of crises.

Various moves:

In addition to the above positions, the Iranian movement on the ground regarding the evolving political crisis in Iraq has taken various forms, the most prominent of which are the following:

1- “Quds Force” Commander Visits Iraq: Reports and analyzes indicate that Iranian Revolutionary Guards “Quds Force” commander Ismail Qaani visited Iraq almost 10 times after the recent parliamentary elections. Some of these visits were announced and Qaani apparently visited religious shrines in Iraq, and there are other unannounced visits, the last of which was two or three visits last August. One of Qaani’s tasks was to ask al-Sadr and his Sunni and Kurdish allies not to insist on their alliance and to form a government that would exclude the forces from the coordination framework. After Qaani failed in this and the crisis in the Iraqi street escalated, and the leader of the Sadrist movement refused to meet him, as rumored, his mission became to work to unite the pro-Iranian factions, and try to reduce the escalation between the two sides of the conflict, which Iran sees as an influential factor in the loss of its influence in Iraq.

There is recent news circulating that Qaani asked the coordination framework forces to withdraw the nomination of Muhammad Shi`a al-Sudani for the post of Prime Minister and to nominate another figure acceptable to al-Sadr. Some sources indicated that Qaani played a role in stopping the events that occurred in the Green Zone and in the withdrawal from it of the protesters of the Sadrist movement, but in reality he did not achieve reconciliation between the parties in conflict or resolve the training crisis. a government, which puts its ability to influence the successor of the leader of the “Quds Force”. Former General Qassem Soleimani, a test subject.

2- Pressure by force: Erbil, a stronghold of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and an ally of Muqtada al-Sadr, was attacked by Iran in March 2022, shortly after the failure of negotiations with al-Sadr on the formation of a government. Although Iran announced the adoption of these strikes under the guise of attacking US headquarters in response to the assassination of two Iranian leaders in Syria, many reports suggested that the bombing came as an attempt to pressure al-Iranian allies. Sadr and entering the crisis line of Iraqi government formation through the use of force.

3- Change of the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad: Last April it was announced that Muhammad Kazem Al Sadiq, leader of the Quds Force and born in the Iraqi city of Najaf, was appointed as the new ambassador of Iran in Baghdad. This step may represent an Iranian response to the demands of several allied Iraqi forces, who expressed their annoyance with the former ambassador, Iraj Masjedi, whom Iran considered did not achieve the desired results in his work, since he failed in the task of uniting the Shia political blocs, and was later replaced by a figure who could help deal with the current crisis.

The new Iranian ambassador to Iraq made several moves in two directions. The first is through contacts with Iraqi politicians and leaders to bring points of view together, and the second is through communication with international organizations and personalities working in Iraq. As Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq Al Kazem received the representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, at the headquarters of the Iranian embassy in Baghdad, on July 25; With the aim of holding talks on the political crisis in Iraq and working to speed up the pace of government formation in accordance with the political mechanism and constitutional norms.

4- Withdraw the religious cover of the Sadrist movement: Faced with the worsening of the crisis and the intensification of the conflict between the Sadrist movement and the forces of the coordination framework, the religious authority, Kazem Al-Hairi, announced, on August 29, his withdrawal, and directed his “followers” ​​to follow the Supreme Leader in Iran and considered him a reference for them. Al-Hairi is the reference followed by the followers of the Sadrist movement, following the will of the religious authority, Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, the father of Muqtada al-Sadr. According to some estimates, this move came as an Iranian move to block Muqtada al-Sadr’s path and order his supporters to follow Wilayat al-Faqih in Iran and not stray from the line of allied Shi’ite political forces. to Tehran.

ختاماً ، الأزمة السياسية الراهنة في العراق تحدياً لإيران واختباراً لقدرتها على المحافظة دورها ونفوذها في الساحة العراقية ، التي اعتادت التأثير المباشر في مجريات العملية السياسية وتشكيل الحكومات السابقة في في هذا البلد ، وجدت نفسها أمام بين القوى السياسية التي ترى ترى فيها to her. Qaani was also unable to play the role that Soleimani was playing in Iraq and the region in influencing and achieving Iranian goals. On the other hand, Iran’s position in the Vienna negotiations may not allow it the freedom of movement to interfere in Iraq so as not to lose its efforts in seeking to lift Western sanctions against it. In short, Iran’s constrained position in the face of its declining influence in Iraq and the loss of its political position by its allies is not an easy one for decision-makers and the conservative movement in Tehran, as all these complications control their I deal with the crises in Iraq and their current and future evolution.

Future Center for Research and Advanced Studies