And the Winner is Iran!

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary If one puts all of the business reports about what is happening in Iraq today, the obvious conclusion is that the number one trading and business partner for Iraq is Iran. To give one example, the famed Iranian chain store Ice Pack has well established itself in Iraq’s capital Baghdad. Other Iranian businesses have followed. Iranian banks have opened bank branches in not only Baghdad but throughout Iraq. Iranian banks such as Parsian, Karafarin, Keshavarzi and Post have tens of thousands of Iraqi customers. The largest number of tourists to Iraq are Iranian. Iranian religious pilgrims by the hundreds of thousands regularly visit the Iraqi holy sites of the 12 imams revered by Shiite Muslims the world over (and especially in Iran) in the towns of Najaf, Karbala, and Samara et Kazemein. A lot of the trade goods now being sold in Iraq originally came from its neighbor Iran. Also, a lot of Iranian weaponry is flowing into Iraq and into the hands of militias, and even the Iraqi police and armed forces. Before the U.S. military invasion of Iraq in 2003, all of this would have been inconceivable.

Just as inconceivable is who the powers that be are in Iraq. At first glance the Iraqi government looks like a balanced mix of the country’s ethnic and religious groups. President Jalal Talabani is Kurdish, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a Shiite Muslim, and the Speaker of the Council of Representatives Usama al-Nujayfi is a Sunni Muslim. But the majority of the Iraqi population (60 percent) is Shiite Muslim, and they have always had a long relationship with Iran which is 90 percent Shiite Muslim. Because of this, the majority of the Iraqi representatives elected by the people to the Council of Representatives are Shiite Muslim. If anything, the Iraqi president’s office is largely ceremonial. The real power is with the prime minister. And Nouri al-Maliki has the support of not only the majority of the Council of Representatives (who are Shiite Muslim), but also the backing of Iran since he had lived in Iran (along with Syria) in exile when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was in power. Because of Iran’s backing, all the most influential Shiite imams such as Ali al-Sistani, Ammar al-Hakim, and Moqtada al-Sadr (al-Sadr really did not want al-Maliki) now back al-Maliki.

In turn all Shiite politicians owe their current connections more to Iran than to the United States or anyone else. Iran, by making sure that Nouri al-Maliki stays in power, has become the power broker in Iraq. And it is also Iran that has helped Moqtada al-Sadr’s party the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq win the majority of seats in the Council of Representatives. And it is through the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq’s majority in the Council of Representatives that the Iraqi government for all due purposes killed the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States (actually killed it by not voting on it and letting the SOFA agreement signed in 2008 run out. Of course, the byzantine nature of Iraqi politics has also meant that nothing was done to negotiate a new SOFA). The SOFA between the United States and Iraq to keep American armed forces in Iraq after 2011 was rejected by the Council of Representatives, and it is because of this rejection that all U.S. forces in Iraq either must stay and come under Iraqi jurisdiction, or leave. Well, the U.S. government has had no choice but to pull American armed forces out by the time the SOFA between the United States and Iraq expires.

With the power of the vote, Iran has been able to end the U.S. participation and occupation of Iraq. This shows that the Iranian government is extending its power well beyond its borders and will soon swallow Iraq in everything but name (with the exception of the Kurdish north which is pretty much autonomous). Now that the United States’ physical presence will be out of Iraq, Iran will do everything it can to drag Iraq either willingly or kicking and screaming into its orbit of influence and control. It is the curse of geography, shared religion, ancient trade and religious links, and above all power play that Iran may in one sense or another prevail in Iraq.

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