When the United States coalition forces toppled the despot Al-Qaeda backed Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001 in Iran's immediate east and US invasion of Iraq in 2003 in Iran's immediate west seemed to be a considered military threat to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
During 1991 Operation Desert Storm, the massive US military build-up in the Gulf was considered a threat to the Islamic Iran's regime. The US military headquarters in Pentagon heightened the tension when they reiterated that Iran as an "axis of evil" and said that Iran, not Iraq is the main enemy in the region and we desperately wanted Iraq to act as a counterweight to Iran.
The Iran-Iraq war ended in a stalemate with direct interference by the US.
According to a report by International Crisis Group, following are the priorities of the Ayatollahs in Iraq:
- A strong centralised Iraqi government which is favourable to Iran, able enough to counter jihadist threats and secure its borders.
- Preservation of territorial integrity of Iraq so that the country remains stable thereby leaving Iran unaffected by any security threats and vulnerable borders.
- Prevent the opposition groups in Iraq and former Saddam loyalists to gain grounds in Iraq and thereby act against Iran's interests.
Iran relied on three important junctures to spread its influence in Iraq, the first such influence, as stated above came with the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The second juncture came in 2011 after the withdrawal of US troops when the first Shia Prime Minister Nouri-al-Maliki was backed by both the United States and Iran which acted against the interest of Sunni leaders leading to deprivation of their political power and economic marginalisation giving way to resurging extremism which strengthened Iranian interests in the country.
The third juncture was the rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - ISIS (or Daesh) in Iraq which led Tehran to organise and empower the existing and even new Shia militias in the garb of aiding Tehran in its fight against ISIS.
By 2011, after the withdrawal of US forces and Nouri-al-Maliki's coronation as Prime Minister of Iraq, Iran had a significant influence over Iraqi politics and conflicts and its militias had key control over various funds and weapons and those acting again Iran's interests were annihilated.
The rise of ISIS in 2014 and its dramatic success posed a significant challenge to Iran's presence and the violent capture of Mosul and other Iraqi cities posed serious questions on the capabilities of Quds Force commanded by Qasem Soleimani and Iran's success in stabilising Iraq.
The possible prediction which can be made is the challenges before Iran amid security crisis, instabilities and weak governance, corruption and sectarian conflicts are to prevent the emergence of new jihadist threats or any other threat from its conventional allies, whether it is Israel, Saudi Arabia or the United States.
It would be difficult for Iraq to shrug off the domination of Shia politics in the governance of Iraq and to ensure proper funds and artillery for its Popular Mobilization Forces (PMUs) founded by Nouri al-Maliki, a coalition of Shia Muslims in Iraq, backed by the Quds Force.
The oldest bonhomie in the Middle-East is the proven relationship between Iran and Syria. Ever since the Islamic Revolution, the two countries established ties on the basis of Shia fraternity.
Despite Alawites sect of Islam are secular and liberal Muslims, which contradict's with Iran version of Shi'ism. Alawites celebrate some Christian and Zoroastrian religious holidays, but Iran's Ayatollah has accepted the Alawite Muslims as Shia.
The Iran-Syria relationship is considered as one of the most sustainable military alliance in the region when both deemed Israel and US presence are considered as an existential threat in the Middle-East.
Iran backed powerful Hezbollah militia stationed in South Lebanon is Iran's largest proxy group to render trouble to Israel was redeployed to aid the Assad regime by training the pro-Assad militias groups.
Iran fears if Sunni majority political alliance comes into power in the post-Assad regime, there is likely to express solidarity with US-Saudi nexus which will prove hostile against Iran's interest in the region.
At present, the greatest challenge before the clergies in Iranian is to continue with its Syria chapter despite carrying the heavy burden of international sanctions and preserve its axis of resistance.
First published in the New Nation, 27 January 2020
Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad, Email: email@example.com