Iraq’s Political Woes Could Put Iran on the Defensive

October 21, 2022 | Munqith Dagher
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Besides exerting de-facto control over Lebanon and much of Yemen, and commanding a great deal of influence in Syria, the Islamic Republic has established itself as a major player in Iraq, where its Shiite militias wield considerable power—as do a number of pro-Iranian politicians. But Baghdad now seems to be coming out of several months of political deadlock, and how the current crisis is resolved may determine whether Tehran is able to hold on to the influence it has acquired. Munqith Dagher explains:

On October 13, Iraqis woke to the sound of nine Katyusha rockets falling on the Green Zone before the special session of parliament that was to be held to select the new Iraqi president. But these rockets were no celebratory shots marking a breakthrough one year after the last Iraqi elections. Although security forces blocked all the roads leading to the Green Zone in order to prevent any demonstrators, they still failed to stop [pro-Iranian] armed factions from expressing their unhappiness about the election of Abdul Latif Rashid to the office of Iraq’s fourth president since the fall of the regime in 2003.

The question now is whether the October Movement—which takes its name from the popular uprising against Iranian influence that began in the southern part of the country in October 2019—will be able to exert political power:

The October Movement, which forced the former prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi to resign [in 2019], has now lost much of its momentum as a result of being a main target for disinformation and physical attacks from militias and pro-Iranian forces in Iraq. Ideological conflicts and leadership disputes within the movement as well as clashes with the [followers of the powerful Shiite, but not reliably pro-Iranian, cleric Muqtada al-Sadr] also led to the splintering of these forces and further loss of momentum.

Nevertheless, although the movement has lost much of its energy, its ideas remain firmly planted in the minds of most Iraqis, especially the youth. The memory of what was achieved in 2019-2020 remains present for everyday Iraqis and continues to frighten political parties in power. Although the number who went out into the streets on the third anniversary of the October uprising was smaller than expected, there were calls for broader action and it is still possible that a larger demonstration could be organized for October 25.

The choice of Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as prime minister—a politician who had previously been nominated by pro-Iranian forces during the October uprising and whom the October Movement had previously opposed due to his close ties to [pro-Iranian politicians]—will pose a new challenge to the will of the October Movement. It remains to be seen whether these events will prompt youth in Baghdad and southern Iraq to protest further against the regime.

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