The Iraqi Elections Were Not an Unqualified Win for Iran

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.

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More about: Arab democracy, Iran, Iraq, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary], approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat