For 17 years, both sides exercised restrained tolerance so as to not unsettle their mutual ownership (unwritten of course) of Iraq; a country abundantly rich in resources and ripe with investment opportunities after local firms were crushed by liberalism and its invisible hand.
It was always a dangerous tango that has ended after American president Donald Trump sounded the deathknell after ordering the assassination of Qods force leader Qassem Soleimani. Iraqis have been asking, why did it take so long? What prompted an escalation in US foreign policy after years of skating on a low-intensity conflict that has been cooking on low heat since 2003. These are questions that international media does not want to inconvenience itself by asking.
As tolerance of their colliding agenda’s waned, both fell out of alignment and grew increasingly hostile towards not each other but rather, Iraq. Iran has had greater successes in magnetising meek politicians that hold the reigns of the country’s Muhasasa system of political apportionment. Many of these figures were raised up by Iran and groomed to fight against their own country in the 80s. Back to the main question in hand, what tipped Trump over the edge.
Baghdad failed to satisfy America’s insecurity to know “which team Baghdad bats for” and this pushed Baghdad into a corner; hard pressed and unable to deliver on the demands of either side, America took action.
Tehran’s failure, and Washington’s by extension, to cop-opt or manipulate Iraq’s nationalist protest movement resulted in mutually escalatory moves on both sides. The protest movement kept itself well out of this spat and will continue to do so but it’s greatest accomplishment was to prise the two powers apart. Unable to agree on who controls what in the country, America needed to clear its path. What it’s actually done is clear the path for Iraq whose sovereignty has been held ransom for too long.
Whiplash is likely but as long as protesters rise above agenda’s and payoffs, it’s difficult to envisage a scenario of war that no-one has been able to argue convincingly yet or present sound evidence for.
The protest movement brought to the surface tensions both sides had been working to lower and skirt.
Iraqis on the streets of Tahrir in Baghdad and other protests hubs from Miysan to Babil have stated loud and clear “no to Iran, no to America”
Another game changer is the loss of lustre militia outfits and associated bandits have lost. The “Islamic Resistance” can no longer mobilise the youth with plastic slogans of Jihad in the way it once could. While populist figure Moqtada Al Sadr and other Shi’i militia outfits that feel they have been deprived of their rightful slice of the Iraqi pie rush to the frontlines, they are ill-equipped to lead the country or risk direct confrontation with America.
Nobody can say with certainty that there will be a war but each side will be looking to push the other to its extreme limits whether by pedalling fake news, provocation and the same-old rhetoric we have heard from Iran. Also, lest we forget, Trump is desperate to leave office favourably, emboldened to counter impeachment by all means necessary. Perhaps what concerns him more than rescuing Iraq — a visible US foreign policy blunder —is swaying the outcome of the upcoming U.S. elections.
Drama does not escalate itself. The situation has been brewing for the past few years. Neither side will charge full speed into a war, Iran most certainly lacks the capabilities which concurrently explains its penchant for asymmetric warfare but things may turn explosive across proxy theatres in Lebanon and Syria and, not least, Iraq.
By Nazli Tarzi a freelance British-Iraqi journalist, specialising in Middle East politics, with a particular interest in Iraqi affairs.