Iran Dominates in Iraq After U.S. ‘Handed the Country Over’

The New York Times

JULY 15, 2017

Members of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a mostly Shiite militia group, at their post at the Iraqi border with Syria.CreditSergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

BAGHDAD — Walk into almost any market in Iraq and the shelves are filled with goods from Iran — milk, yogurt, chicken. Turn on the television and channel after channel broadcasts programs sympathetic to Iran.

A new building goes up? It is likely that the cement and bricks came from Iran. And when bored young Iraqi men take pills to get high, the illicit drugs are likely to have been smuggled across the porous Iranian border.

And that’s not even the half of it.

Across the country, Iranian-sponsored militias are hard at work establishing a corridor to move men and guns to proxy forces in Syria and Lebanon. And in the halls of power in Baghdad, even the most senior Iraqi cabinet officials have been blessed, or bounced out, by Iran’s leadership.

.
Shiite fighters near the Iraqi border with Syria. While Iran has built up militias to fight against the Islamic State in Iraq, it has also mobilized an army of Shiite Iraqi men to fight on its behalf in Syria. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times


When the United States invaded Iraq 14 years ago to topple Saddam Hussein, it saw Iraq as a potential cornerstone of a democratic and Western-facing Middle East, and vast amounts of blood and treasure — about 4,500 American lives lost, more than $1 trillion spent — were poured into the cause.

From Day 1, Iran saw something else: a chance to make a client state of Iraq, a former enemy against which it fought a war in the 1980s so brutal, with chemical weapons and trench warfare, that historians look to World War I for analogies. If it succeeded, Iraq would never again pose a threat, and it could serve as a jumping-off point to spread Iranian influence around the region.

In that contest, Iran won, and the United States lost.

Over the past three years, Americans have focused on the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq, returning more than 5,000 troops to the country and helping to force the militants out of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul.

Continue reading the main story
Photo

Men suspected of fighting for the Islamic State, detained in a makeshift courthouse in Qaraqosh, near Mosul. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

.
But Iran never lost sight of its mission: to dominate its neighbor so thoroughly that Iraq could never again endanger it militarily, and to use the country to effectively control a corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean.
Continue reading the main story
ADVERTISEMENTContinue reading the main story“Iranian influence is dominant,” said Hoshyar Zebari, who was ousted last year as finance minister because, he said, Iran distrusted his links to the United States. “It is paramount.”

The country’s dominance over Iraq has heightened sectarian tensions around the region, with Sunni states, and American allies, like Saudi Arabia mobilizing to oppose Iranian expansionism. But Iraq is only part of Iran’s expansion project; it has also used soft and hard power to extend its influence in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, and throughout the region.

Iran is a Shiite state, and Iraq, a Shiite majority country, was ruled by an elite Sunni minority before the American invasion. The roots of the schism between Sunnis and Shiites, going back almost 1,400 years, lie in differences over the rightful leaders of Islam after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. But these days, it is about geopolitics as much as religion, with the divide expressed by different states that are adversaries, led by Saudi Arabia on one side and Iran on the other.

Iran’s influence in Iraq is not just ascendant, but diverse, projecting into military, political, economic and cultural affairs.

At some border posts in the south, Iraqi sovereignty is an afterthought. Busloads of young militia recruits cross into Iran without so much as a document check. They receive military training and are then flown to Syria, where they fight under the command of Iranian officers in defense of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

Passing in the other direction, truck drivers pump Iranian products — food, household goods, illicit drugs — into what has become a vital and captive market.

Workers unloading Iranian products at an Iraqi border crossing. The flow of goods between the two countries is one-sided. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

 

Iran tips the scales to its favor in every area of commerce. In the city of Najaf, it even picks up the trash, after the provincial council there awarded a municipal contract to a private Iranian company. One member of the council, Zuhair al-Jibouri, resorted to a now-common Iraqi aphorism: “We import apples from Iran so we can give them away to Iranian pilgrims.”

Politically, Iran has a large number of allies in Iraq’s Parliament who can help secure its goals. And its influence over the choice of interior minister, through a militia and political group the Iranians built up in the 1980s to oppose Mr. Hussein, has given it substantial control over that ministry and the federal police.

.
Read the rest:
.
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/15/world/middleeast/iran-iraq-iranian-power.html?mcubz=1
Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: