Following the major offensive of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq last year, the country’s key cities fell like dominos, increasing the Jihadist’s control over a vast territory spanning from Syria to Iraq. The magnitude of this catastrophe for Iraq and for the region is mind-boggling. As a direct result of the conflict, three million people have been internally displaced and eight million are now in desperate need of humanitarian support. Mass executions, systematic rape and atrocities are widespread across the country.
When Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi assumed office in September 2014, many held high hopes that he would alter the sectarian policies of his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki, who alienated the Sunni population and facilitated the rise of ISIS. Nine months into his tenure, al-Abadi’s plan for national reconciliation lies in tatters, leaving many to believe that Iraq is now a failed state. Urgently needed judicial reforms have never been implemented, nor has Abadi supported the creation of a national guard to arm and train the Sunni tribes to fight against ISIS. These are major mistakes. Instead, al-Abadi has relied upon the brutal Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, which operate outwith any official framework and openly target and discriminate against Sunnis and other ethnic minorities.
Al-Abadi’s reluctance to push the national reconciliatory agenda for Iraq may be partly explained by Nouri al-Maliki’s political resistance, which is closely tied to Tehran and maintains enormous influence over the coalition of the ruling Shi’ite political parties. A recent disturbing report in The Washington Times elaborated on how al-Maliki, who remains in government as vice-president, undermines al-Abadi at every opportunity in a bid to return to power. Khalid Mufriji, a Sunni MP who chairs the Committee on Regions and Provinces in the Iraqi parliament, told the Times that: “Maliki is still controlling a lot of the power” and further argued regarding the coalition of Shi’ite parties that: “Abadi cannot get out of the circle of what they decide.”
In the absence of a U.S. strategy in Iraq and a capable Iraqi army, the Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella of Tehran-backed Shi’ite militias such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Badr Organisation, Hezbollah Brigades and the Imam Ali Brigades, have effectively become the leading services in the fight against ISIS under the command of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Al-Muhandis is a close affiliate of Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s terrorist Quds Force and maintains close ties with Iran. Tehran exploits the political dynamics in Baghdad through its proxies to advance its own agenda for regional hegemony and the ISIS crisis has been a pretext for the Ayatollahs to send troops, arms and funds into Iraq in order to achieve this goal.
While President Obama has yet to make up his mind on whether he should confront the Iranian regime’s meddling in Iraq, the mullahs make sure they do not miss any opportunity in forming new Shi’ite paramilitary forces, indoctrinating them with Khomeini’s brand of Islamic fundamentalism in order to increase their influence on the ground. The brutality and the atrocities committed by these militia forces against the people of Iraq is similar or sometimes even worse than the carnage committed by ISIS.
Washington backed the nomination of Haider al-Abadi for the premiership last year as he is seen as a moderate. However, by not having a robust strategy for ousting Iran and its proxies from Iraq, the Obama administration has effectively emboldened the extremist elements in Iraqi politics that follow the instructions of the theocracy in Tehran. In such an environment, it is virtually impossible to implement the national reconciliation process in Iraq. Some say that Washington does not wish to pick a fight with Tehran over Iraq as it is keen to reach a nuclear deal with Iran at any cost. But allowing the mullahs to advance their vicious plans and export their fundamentalism and terrorism to the rest of the region will have far greater and long-term negative consequences both for the region and the rest of the world.
Stevenson was a Conservative MEP representing Scotland in the European Parliament from 1999 until his retirement in 2014. He was president of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014. He is now president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).