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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.

Read more at Washington Examiner

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

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen