Iraq’s shock election result may be turning point for Iran

Simon Tisdall writes:

The unexpectedly poor showing of Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, in parliamentary elections has dealt a blow to US influence in the country. It was a poor return for American backing for the Baghdad government’s drive to extirpate Islamic State and regain lost territory.

But the bigger loser may be Iran, whose allies in Iraq’s Shia militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces were pushed into second place by Moqtada al-Sadr, the veteran nationalist. Put simply, Sadr believes Iraqis should run Iraqi affairs – not Washington, not Tehran and not their proxies.

The pressing question now, for Iraqis and the wider Arab world, is whether the election marks the high watermark of Iranian influence that has grown steadily across the region since the 2003 US invasion. Recent events have blown large holes in the prevailing narrative of an inexorable Iranian advance. In short, have we reached “peak Iran”?

Evidence the tide may be turning emerged last week after Donald Trump, in effect, tore up the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sweeping sanctions.

Tehran’s fractured leadership seemed caught off-guard by the full force of the US president’s denunciation. It has failed so far to articulate a clear response. [Continue reading…]

Al Jazeera reports:

Commenting on the results, Rend al-Rahim, a former Iraqi ambassador to the United States told Al Jazeera: “The ascendancy of the list sponsored by al-Sadr shows that anti-establishment sentiment and anti-corruption have driven the choice of most voters.”

But according to Rahim, Sadr’s rise to victory was also based on emotionally-driven voting.

“None of the lists had an electoral programme that outlined priorities and a plan of action. All used vague terms to lure voters. Many of the lists also used populist and demagogic tactics that played on the emotions of voters.

“The success of Sairoon and Fatah clearly show that voters were ideologically and emotionally driven,” said Al-Rahim.

Move away from Iran, US?
Unlike Abadi, a rare ally of both the US and Iran, Sadr is an opponent of both countries, which have wielded influence in Iraq since a US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 and thrust the Shia majority into power.

Sadr has led two uprisings against US forces in Iraq and is one of the few Shia leaders to distance himself from Iran.

He has instead sought to broaden his regional support, meeting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah last year.

Because Sadr did not stand as a candidate and therefore cannot head the government, he appears set to play kingmaker.

Even Sadr’s bloc might not necessarily form the next government, as the other winning blocs would have to agree on the nomination.

In a 2010 election, Vice President Ayad Allawi’s group won the largest number of seats, but he was blocked from becoming premier for which he blamed Tehran.

In a similar fashion, Iran has already publicly stated it will not allow Sadr’s bloc to govern. [Continue reading…]

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