Conceding Defeat in Iraq

The US has only itself to blame for Iran’s growing influence in the country

By Abdel Bari Atwan

The war between the US and Iran has begun moving markedly onto the Iraqi stage, with the US government increasingly treating the Iranian regime as though it were Iraq’s de facto ruler.

This was underlined by the official warning issued by the White House this week holding the Iranian government accountable for any attacks that may be launched by pro-Tehran groups against US personnel or facilities in Iraq. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders blamed “proxies” of Iran for recent attacks at the US consulate in Basra and near the American embassy compound in Baghdad’s ‘Green Zone’, adding that “Iran did not act to stop these attacks by its proxies in Iraq, which it has supported with funding, training, and weapons.” 

There can be no disputing that Iran wields immense, if not overwhelming, influence in Iraq, and that Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Brigade, is a kingmaker in Baghdad. He oversaw the process of foiling the independence referendum which Masoud Barzani held in Iraqi Kurdistan. He also played the key role in establishing the Popular Mobilization forces and other armed groups that fought a ferocious campaign to eject the Islamic State group (Daesh) from Mosul and other Iraqi cities. At present, he is focusing his efforts on putting together the new Iraqi government.

But this growing Iranian influence is a consequence of the American invasion of the country 15 years ago, a fact that the US administration is unlikely to admit and about which it remains in denial.

The White House’s charge that Iranian “proxies” were behind the attack on the consulate in Basra stretches credulity. Iran’s own consulate in the same city was set on fire by protestors during the recent unrest there. They chanted anti-Iranian slogans and attacked the offices of pro-Iranian political parties, prompting some Iraqi politicians and commentators to accuse the US and Saudi Arabia of being behind the violence.

The reality that cannot easily be denied or overlooked is that the US has lost in Iraq. It lost more than a trillion dollars waging war on the country before withdrawing in defeat, and it is now losing the post-withdrawal stage in favour of Iran’s allies. The fortunes of its favoured candidate to form the next Iraqi government, Haidar al-Abadi, are in rapid retreat compared to those of the political bloc supported by Iran – which was carefully constructed by Soleimani who spends most of his time with in Baghdad thee days.

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, pulled no punches on Thursday when she threatened Iran with a suffocating blockade once the second and most serious phase of US sanctions – the ban on oil exports – comes into effect in November. But such diatribes cannot change the reality on the ground, namely that Iran’s political and military influence in the Middle East is expanding while that of the US is shrinking.

The US’ latest threats and warnings to Iran – whether related to Iraq, Syria or occupied Palestine — are a sign of weakness rather than strength. And they are certainly not anything new. What Haley and her boss do not seem to appreciate is that there are 6,000 US troops in Iraq and another 2,000 in Syria, and these are tantamount to hostages who live at the mercy of Iran’s forces and the Iranian-backed Iraqi factions.

The US has lost Iraq and is on its way to losing its wars and influence in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan too. For this, it has only its own arrogance and its senseless, racist policies to blame. The threats and bluster we hear from time to time are cries of pain at this failure.