Middle East in Focus
As the world awaits the next chapter in the US-Iran saga, Iraq finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Given Iraq;s reliance on U.S. security assistance, Iraqi government officials have been hard-pressed to take any concrete actions regarding the U.S. military presence in the country, despite the parliament's motion calling for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. On the other hand, it is clear that aside from some segments of the hardline Shiite population, many Iraqis are equally upset with Iran for turning Iraq into a battleground between Iran and the United States. Meanwhile, regional leaders have expressed concerns about the possible resurgence of ISIS in Iraq and beyond.
According to a report by The National;s Mina Aldroubi, last week Iraqi politicians and protesters accused their own government of being responsible… for an attack on an Iraqi airbase that hosts US troops amid rising tension between Washington and Tehran on Iraqi soil.... Iraq's Human Rights Commission condemned the strike and urged the government to take immediate action to end the hostilities.... The development comes as at least 10 people were injured when Iraqi security forces clashed with anti-government protesters in the holy city of Karbala late on Sunday. Protesters took to the streets to voice their frustration at US and Iranian interference in Iraq;s internal affairs, as well as corruption and a lack of basic services.”
Much of the anger has also been targeted at the United States, with many demanding that U.S. troops leave Iraq. However, as this AFP report posted by the Kurdish website Rudaw points out, such a move could create havoc for Iraq;s finances: If Washington imposes threatened sanctions, including blocking access to a US-based account where Baghdad keeps oil revenues that feed 90 percent of the national budget.... Iraq is OPEC's second-biggest crude producer and more than 90 percent of the state budget, which reached $112 billion in 2019, derives from oil revenues. To this day, revenues are paid in dollars into the Fed account daily, with the balance now sitting at about $35 billion.... The US is considering other - less inflammatory - options too... One would be declining to renew a temporary waiver that Washington granted to Iraq in 2018 that allows Baghdad to import gas from Iran to feed its gutted power grid, despite US sanctions on Tehran's energy sector.”
Some Arab dailies, meanwhile, have called on Iraq's government to use the recent events to start afresh by ridding itself of what a Gulf News editorial considers Iran's grip on Iraq [which] has been well-documented, with its funding of political parties and arming of militias, but the Iraqi people for three months have realized that this unchecked power has dragged their country into the abyss.... It is time for Iraq to truly clean house, disband these out-of-control militias and work towards electing an independent legislature free from foreign influence. For too long, Iraqis have not had a real say in what goes on in their own country. When Iraqis don't have sovereignty over their own political decisions, proxy groups backed by Iran will unfortunately have a disproportionate sway. It seems some groupings may step up their militia warfare in the country. Now, more than ever, it is time for Iraq's decision makers to clip these militias' powers.”
That message is also echoed in this Arab News op-ed by Mohammed Al-Sulami, who argues that Iraq has already wasted too much time by staying under Iran's shadow: Iran has worked tirelessly in the media and other spheres to indoctrinate the Iraqi people with negative and distorted images of other Arab states.... With Soleimani gone, it is time for Iraq to re-establish the prestige and leading position it deserves, as well as to reclaim its political independence, giving priority to Iraq;s interests and its people, while putting the interests of other parties on the back burner.... Now is the time for the slumbering Iraqi giant to wake and rise once again, to throw off the burdens of the past 15 years and return to the Arab sphere, and — more importantly — to the position you deserve.”
Deeply embedded within the question of Iraq's future is the impact that the US-Iran competition in the region is likely to have on the future of Iraq's other constant threat. Commenting on the likely rise of the Islamic State and its growing danger in the region, Jordan's King Abdullah warned that as Iraq becomes more unstable, the group was resurging in southern and eastern Syria and western Iraq.... The king added, the political instability in Iraq, exacerbated by the US-Iran standoff, could leave space for the group to grow stronger.... He also mentioned his concern for the people of Iraq as the proxy war waged over their heads. It is the Iraqi people who have suffered, who have paid the price. They deserve stability, they deserve a movement to the future.