The Iraqi Elections Are Bad News for Iran

October 19, 2021 | Amir Taheri
About the author: Amir Taheri, formerly the executive editor (1972-79) of Iran’s main daily newspaper, is the author of twelve books and a columnist for the Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

Last week, Iraq held its fifth national election since the U.S. deposed Saddam Hussein in 2003. The Islamic Republic has spent the past two decades expanding its influence in the country, setting up an interlocking network of proxy militias and political parties, and trying to turn its neighbor into another Lebanon. But the recent voting has impeded those efforts, writes Amir Taheri; and there is other good news as well:

The very fact that the election took place is [itself] a cause for celebration. Key players, including some foreign powers and political barons addicted to power and perk, did all they could to prevent an early election that they sensed might reduce their share of power.

Tehran’s proxies did worse than anyone imagined. The militia-dominated bloc led by Hadi al-Ameri lost 35 of its 50 seats. The biggest winner on the Shiite side was Muqtada al-Sadr’s maverick bloc, which has called for limiting the holding of weapons only to the state—in other words, disbanding the Iran-controlled militias.

The fact that a large number of candidates, almost 3,500, contested the 329 seats at stake, indicated the abiding attractiveness of the democratic process for a growing segment of politically active Iraqis. Those who entered the competition included the largest number of young activists, women, and individuals standing as independents. . . . The parties and groups representing the Sunni Muslim community emerge from this election with a heightened profile and a more credible leadership, something that could speed up the healing of sectarian wounds inflicted on it since 2003.

The ruling mullahs in Tehran had hoped that the election would turn out to be a referendum on American military presence in Iraq. That didn’t happen, as the Iraqi political elite preferred to focus on the need for foreign military presence in all its forms be ended. The 2,500 US troops still in Iraq could be withdrawn at any moment under the status-of-forces mechanism in place since 2008. The same could not be said about the Iran’s proxy units in Iraq.

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