Iraq held its national elections on Saturday, and some observers, based on the preliminary results, see the success of Shiite parties with ties to Tehran as a sign of the Islamic Republic’s ever-growing influence in the country. But Michael Rubin urges against jumping to conclusions:
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, [who has been wary of Iranian interference], fared more poorly than expected, behind Hadi al-Ameri’s Fatih coalition, [which has ties to Iran but has also cooperated with the Americans], and the surprise winner, the Iraqi populist [Shiite cleric] Muqtada al-Sadr. Also doing surprisingly well, albeit farther down the list, is Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, an Iranian-backed offshoot responsible for the murder of U.S. servicemen inside Iraq. . . .
[But] Iraq’s elections are not winner-take-all. Many figures run separately but come together in the post-election shuffle to form a coalition. . . . Sadr has accepted Iranian patronage before, but he is almost as mercurial toward the Iranians as he is toward the Americans. Neither Sadr’s success nor Ameri’s necessarily translates into an Iranian ability to dictate to Iraq. [Furthermore], the former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s poor showing undercuts the narrative that Iran is the victor. . . .
Abadi remains personally popular enough to have a chance at winning a new term. He presided over the defeat of Islamic State and implemented some important reforms. Oil is on the upswing and, alongside it, Iraq’s economy. Baghdad is booming and, according to United Nations’ statistics, terrorist incidents have plummeted. If Abadi can’t patch together a new government, a compromise candidate may emerge. Any successful compromise candidate would likely need to appeal to both those factions with a more sympathetic outlook to Iran and those who seek a more Western model. In other words, a new prime minister, like Abadi and those before him, will likely have to be someone who can compromise and guide Iraq through the minefield of regional and great-power diplomacy and interests. . . .
[Finally], it is important to . . . celebrate the fact that Iraq may now have its fifth successful transfer of power—in a region where many other leaders aspire to rule for life and will kill those who seek a vote to end that rule. That’s good for Iraq, good for the broader region, good for the United States, and a notable juxtaposition to the dictatorship suffered by Iranians.