The Iraqi Protests Are an Opportunity for Iran

On October 1, Baghdad witnessed mass demonstrations decrying government corruption and demanding economic improvements; the protests have since spread to other parts of the country. While initially peaceful, they were met almost immediately with violent repression, and over 100 have been killed. More recently, there have been reports of snipers from Iran-backed militias—known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)—firing at protestors. The unrest, notes Bilal Wahab, comes in the wake of a positive development: younger Iraqis especially are increasingly motivated by national, rather than tribal or sectarian, sentiment:

The latest outburst of public outrage was [in part] triggered by the nationalist sentiment that has grown since the defeat of Islamic State. The younger post-Saddam generation is proud of the army’s victory over the terrorists and the subsequent return of calm to most cities. Thus, when Prime Minister Adil Abdulmahdi announced earlier this week that he had removed the war’s most popular military figure, General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, the [nationalist] sentiment boiled over. A fearless commander who spearheaded the battle for Mosul’s liberation, . . . Saadi is the epitome of Iraqi national pride: he is Shiite, but popular with Sunnis, and he rose through the ranks without relying on political patronage.

In addition, the younger, web-connected generation knows that it makes little sense for such a rich country to have so many poor people, shabby roads, dilapidated hospitals, and broken schools. . . . Many are also uneasy about the rise of certain militias within the PMF that [fought] Islamic State but are now becoming part of a new, more dangerous network that has accelerated corruption and openly challenged state authority.

Because the demonstrators are mainly young Shiites fed up with the Shiite representatives who failed them, Abdulmahdi seems inclined to fall back on contradictory conspiracy theories: one accusing Saudi Arabia and the United States of fomenting the protests, another blaming Iran and its local proxies. Such paranoia will only cripple his efforts to carry out the serious reforms his public is demanding.

Wahab urges the U.S. to apply behind-the-scenes pressure on the Iraqi government to rein in its security forces and respond to the protestors’ concerns. Otherwise, unrest is likely to grow—creating an opportunity for Tehran to expand its influence in the country.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Arab democracy, Iran, Iraq


How America Sowed the Seeds of the Current Middle East Crisis in 2015

Analyzing the recent direct Iranian attack on Israel, and Israel’s security situation more generally, Michael Oren looks to the 2015 agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. That, and President Biden’s efforts to resurrect the deal after Donald Trump left it, are in his view the source of the current crisis:

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Barack Obama’s singular foreign-policy achievement.

In order to achieve that result, the administration has repeatedly refused to punish Iran for its malign actions:

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran repeatedly to assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one.

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. . . . Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity.

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

Read more at Free Press

More about: Barack Obama, Gaza War 2023, Iran, Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy