Iran tightens its political and economic grip on Iraq

BAGHDAD: Penalties struck Iran consolidates its hold on its neighbors Iraqan economic lifeline where pro-Tehran parties dominate political life, much to the chagrin of the United States, experts say.
For years, Iraq has been caught in a delicate balancing act between its two main allies, Tehran and Washington, themselves sworn enemies.
After a US-led invasion in 2003, the Iraqi dictator was toppled Saddam HusseinIran’s influence has grown through political ties between the Shia-Muslim majorities of the two countries.
Pro-Iranian parties now dominate Iraq’s parliament, and in October they named a new prime minister after a year-long struggle with their Shiite rivals.
Iraq has become an “economic lifeline” for Iran, said Ihsan al-Shammari, a political scientist at the University of Baghdad.
This is “all the more so with the tightening of Western economic sanctions and nuclear negotiations which do not seem to be leading to a deal favorable to Iran,” Shammari said.
“Iran’s role will be even more important than under previous (Iraqi) governments”
During a visit to Tehran late last month, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and Iranian officials called for greater bilateral cooperation in all areas.
He thanked Iran for providing gas and electricity – around a third of Iraq’s needs – and added that this would continue until Iraq was self-sufficient.
His country is already the leading importer of Iranian goods.
According to Shammari, Tehran has an “urgent need” to keep Iraq close.
Under a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Iran agreed to curb its atomic program in exchange for relief from economically crippling sanctions.
The deal began to unravel in 2018 when then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States and reimposed financial sanctions, including a ban on Iranian oil exports. Since then, efforts to revive the nuclear deal have largely stalled.
Western countries have imposed additional sanctions following Iran’s crackdown on protests that have rocked the country since September.
Iran accuses exiled Kurdish opposition groups of fomenting unrest and carrying out cross-border strikes into Iraq against them.
“Iraq is disputed by the United States and Iran, with Turkey in third place in the north,” said Fabrice Balanche, of France’s Lumière Lyon 2 university.
“With a pro-Iranian personality at the head of the government, Iran will be able to benefit more from the Iraqi economy,” he added, referring to Sudani, who is close to former pro-Iranian Prime Minister Nouri al. -Maliki.
Iran’s influence is also evident through its ties to the Iraqi Hashed al-Shaabi, a former paramilitary force made up mainly of pro-Iranian militias that have since been integrated into the regular forces.
The Hashed played a major role in the defeat of the Islamic State group in Iraq and now has a significant presence in the country’s politics.
Its representatives are part of the Coordinating Framework parliamentary bloc, which controls 138 of the 329 seats in the legislature and is made up of pro-Iranian factions, including Maliki’s.
Last month, the Iraqi government gave Hashed control of a new public company, with capital of around $68 million.
Al-Muhandis’ mission in oil-rich but war-torn Iraq is “rehabilitation and development of the province: infrastructure, housing, hospitals, factories”, a Hashed communications official said under cover of anonymity, in keeping with the low profile adopted by those responsible. on the project.
The name of the company is in tribute to the deputy commander of Hashed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. He was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad in 2020 along with the Iranian general Kasem Soleimaniwho headed that country’s Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
In November, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said it was “not fair” to view his coalition government as “an attachment” to that of Iran.
The Iraqi Kurdish diplomat pointed to its multi-party and multi-faith makeup as showing a “balance” between different forces.
But pro-Iranian parties now appear to have carte blanche, after the rival Shia leader Moqtada Sadr tried for months to appoint a prime minister and prevent Sudani’s appointment.
The stalemate led to deadly clashes in late August between Sadr supporters against members of the Hashed and the military.
As Iran’s influence grows, the US ally remains ever present, with around 2,500 US troops stationed in Iraq as part of ongoing efforts to combat the Islamic State group.
Sudani has had several talks with US Ambassador Alina Romanowski since her appointment.
Balanche noted that Washington is monitoring the Iraqi banking system to ensure that Iran is not using it to evade existing restrictions, and that US influence is present via “the threat of financial sanctions”.
“The United States remains in Iraq so as not to completely abandon the country to Iran,” he added.

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