Iraq dilemma: Political stability and future at stake

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iraq and future
Fighters from the PMF carrying the coffin of Muhammad Sabir Al-Saadi, commander of Kataib Hezbollah killed in a US airstrike, in Baghdad (Photo: Internet)

In between the exchanges of attacks between the Iran backed militias and United States, the biggest consequences have been faced by Iraq. After the Iran-backed militias also referred to as Islamic Resistance, on the pretext of supporting Palestinian cause in Israel-Hamas war, carried out a drone attack on a US base, Tower 22 in Jordan, that caused three fatalities of US soldiers, US reprised with a wave of attacks targeting various locations of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq and Syria. These developments come around a time when Iraq and US are negotiating a pull out of US-led coalition forces from Iraq. The forces stationed since 2014, played a key role in eliminating the IS which occupied a large portion of Iraqi land back then.

US And Iran: A Balance game for Iraq

The recent attacks have augmented the intricacies and made it difficult for Iraq to balance both of its key partners Iran and US, who are themselves the arch-rivals. Although US has, since long, designated the Islamic Resistance and its comprising groups as terrorist organisations, the crusade against the IS somehow put them on the same page in 2014, a situation that is completely different now.

After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 followed by the regime change, the sectarian representation was thought to be a necessity for the lasting peace and hence Muhasasa1 was preferentially chosen as a form of political system for Iraq. Under this very concept, the ethnic groups were given representation from top to bottom, according to their population and so, being the majority, Shias primarily held the Prime Minister’s post. Considerably, under Saddam Hussain’s Ba’athist regime, Shias and Kurds were oppressed and hence were actually happy with US intervention back then.

The newly formed government, then maintained good ties with the US which provided it the military aid, training and other supports for sustaining a stable state free from the fear of being toppled by the IS again. Meanwhile, Iraq’s relations with Iran, which remained bitter till Saddam Hussain’s regime started to mend gradually as both countries got ruled by the same ethnic groups. This was further strengthened by the existence of PMC (Popular Mobilization Forces).

As mentioned above, the Iran backed militias, Islamic Resistance in Iraq (IRI), were also involved in the struggle against IS. These militias have been the part of Popular Mobilization Force. Later in 2016, the Iraqi government designated the PMF as the ‘independent military formation’ within the Iraqi Armed Forces.

Longstanding animosity between Kataib Hezbollah and US

The Islamic Resistance has so far carried out over 170 attacks on US stakes across the middle east since the inception of Israel Hamas war, out of which the Jordan drone strike was the first which caused US the life of its soldiers. Pentagon claimed that the attack was carried out by Kataib Hezbollah, a terrorist organisation under PMF and IRI. 

In the retaliatory attacks by US, a powerful commander of Kataib Hezbollah named Wissam Muhammad Sabir Al-Saadi, was killed. At this point it must be noted that in 2020, when IRGC Gen. Qassem Soleimani was killed in US airstrike in Baghdad, the founder of this Kataib Hezebollah Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed aside him. So, when US is busy fighting the Houthis at one hand, while draining resources at two fronts, i.e., to Ukraine and Israel, Kataib Hezebollah’s attack seems to be seeking revenge by calculated move to weaken the US in middle east.2

Meanwhile, the apprehensions surround the future of political stability and democracy in Iraq, because the conflict between United States and Iran proxies is more intense on Iraqi soil as stated by foreign minister, Dr Fuad Hussein. During his recent interview, he said, They are not going to solve their problem on Iraqi soil, we paid a very big price.”

Iraq’s reluctance towards Iran-backed militia

Iraq has initiated the negotiations for ousting the US-led coalition forces, calling the stationing of US forces as an “overstay.” Conspicuously, the step comes out of an idea that if US withdraws, things could get better and the hypothesis is, obviously, not hollow as protracted military stationing can result into resentment in the populace and could also destroy the self-sustaining ability of a nation. But fact of the matter is that, may be the violence graph would go low after US-led forces’ evacuation, Iran proxies’ presence will always be a looming challenge for the stability of Iraq. This may be the prudent reason why Iraq wants NATO mission to stay while America led coalition forces to pull out.3

And more concerning in this direction is the difference in Iraqi approach to oust both the foreign actors, i.e., US and Iran backed militias. While Iraq seems determinant to oust the US forces, it’s commitment to deal with Iran-backed militias is quite the opposite despite the foreign minister’s claim that the conditions have changed and now the Iran backed militias are also being challenged.

According to Hussein’s statement, earlier many people didn’t dare to talk about it which was the reality of Iraq, but now they are talking about it. He puts, “People dare to say to those guys, ‘it’s enough’.” As per him the militias have got the message that if they continue, they will push the country into a war that is not Iraq’s.      

This comes about a month after Iran launched second missile attack in Erbil, targeting what it claimed to be a Mossad base. Iraq’s Foreign Minister then expressed resentment and visited Tehran demanding proof and apology4. Evidently, Iraq has contemplated that Iran’s extra influence is hurting their interest, but has not yet contemplated how to deal with those, who it doesn’t control yet they operate on its own soil. This becomes more evident by the statement of Kataib Hezbollah after the Jordan strike. Kataib Hezbollah had announced a halt on attacks on US citing reason that it desire not to “embarrass” the Iraqi government.

More complexities awaits for Iraq

One of the prime reasons for Iraq’s helplessness is the entrenched sectarianism which deepened by the current political system. Muhasasa, no doubt gave representation to each sects namely, Shia, Sunni and Kurds, but the power struggle that began as a result of this process, widened the sectarian gap and thus the political space got filled with leaders with only quality of being a choice of a particular community, rendering Iraq backwards in the field of technology, development among others.

Resultantly, the will power to take firm decisions in national interest has also declined. So, Iraq which seems like lingering in between the power tussle of US and Iran is facing more challenges that would further aggravate and come to the surface after US leaves a vacuum, only to be occupied by Iran backed militias.  

  1. Iraq’s new government and persistence of ‘Muhassesa’, Emirates Policy Center (EPC), https://epc.ae/en/details/brief/iraq-s-new-government-and-the-persistence-of-muhassesa- ↩︎
  2. The Growing Influence of Iranian-Backed Militias in Iraq, The Cipher Brief, https://www.thecipherbrief.com/column_article/the-growing-influence-of-iranian-backed-militias-in-iraq ↩︎
  3. NATO Mission Iraq, NATO, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_166936.htm#:~:text=NATO%20Mission%20Iraq%20(NMI)%20is,prevent%20the%20return%20of%20ISIS ↩︎
  4. Iran Foreign Minister: We need an apology from Iran and proof about “Mossad base”, The National News, https://www.thenationalnews.com/mena/2024/02/21/iraq-foreign-minister-we-need-an-apology-from-iran-and-proof-about-mossad-base/ ↩︎

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