Recently, there have been good signs that pointed towards a possible decline of Iranian interference in the region. First, there has been the recent appointment of Mustafa Al-Kadhimi as the new prime minister of Iraq and his successful formation of government. Then, there have been talks of an Iranian withdrawal from Syria as its bases and militias there have been facing targeted attacks from Israel. Finally, in Lebanon Hezbollah gave the Diab government the greenlight to take out a loan from the International Monetary Fund.
In Iraq, some people have considered Iran’s inability to block Al-Kadhimi’s appointment, as well the Iraqi parliament’s confidence in the new Prime Minister as the beginning of the end of Iran’s intereference in Iraq’s affairs. Al-Kadhimi hails from a journalistic background, as he was a writer for “Al Osboeia” magazine, he then became a coloumnist and editor-in-chief for the Iraq section of Al-Monitar International. Shortly after Haidar Al Abadi became president of Iraq, Al-Khadhimi became the new head of Iraqi intelligence.
Ever since the American invasion of Iraq and the fall of the Saddam Huissein regime, Iraq has been ruled by a politicians who mainly hail from Shiite backgrounds and most of whom are loyal to the Iranian regime. Al-Kadhimi is part of a new generation of Iraqi politicians who do not subscribe to such pro-Iranian sentiment. As a matter of fact, Al-Kadhimi’s stances display a great divergence away from the establishment political class since his work with the Iranian opposition has brought him close to the United States, additionally he has shown to be quite pragmatic and liberal. The government officials and ministers he appointed also share his political sentiments and vision. He is also the first person to form a functioning government since the resignation of Adel Abdul Mahdi, as both Mohammed Tawfiq and Adnan al Zarfi failed to form governments of their own. As such, on May 7, 2020, the Iraqi political deadlock was finally broken after parliament approved of Al-Kadhimi’s new government.
Ever since gaining parliamentary approval, Al-Kadhimi undertook a number of bold decisions that have come at odds with Iranian power. He decided to free all those who had been arrested during the protests that broke out late last year. He also decided to start paying reperations to the families of those who were killed during the protests, and he appointed new security officials who do not have any history of working with Iranian militias. He also reappointed Abdul Wahab al Saadi as the head of the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service after being removed from the post in September 2019. The US assasination of Qasim Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis also helped ignite Al-Kadhimi’s public image, as he emerged as a hero who stood against Iranian hegemony in Iraq, it should be noted though that he has never claimed any involvement in that operation. Furthermore, he was already a well known figure even before the January 3 events.
Al-Kadhimi has a tough task ahead of him. Iraqi citizens are facing deteriorating economic and living standards which have slowly been declining as a result of Saddam Huissien’s wars, international sanctions and the American invasion. Moreover, Iraq has become a hotspot for instabiliy and terrorism utlimattly leading to the rise of ISIS. For now, Al-Kadhimi will have to find ways to alleviate the living standards, mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus and prevent a resurgence of ISIS. These circumstances are perhaps the biggest reasons why Iran did not block the appointment of Al-Kadhimi. One musn’t forget that Iran has also faced a number of setbacks such as the assasination of its regional orchestrator, Qasim Soleimani, increased sanctions, and the rise of protests in Iraq as well as in its own backyard. However, Iran’s setbacks doesn’t mean that it will withdraw entirely from Iraq since that would go against its foreign policy of “spreading the Islamic Revolution”. Ever since Khomenei hijacked the Iranian Revolution 41 years ago, the Islamic Republic has been on a mission to take over the Middle East in the name of “spreading the Islamic revolution”. As such, it would be foolish to think that Iran would easily let go of the influence it has over Iraq.
Iran's ambitions do not contradict Al-Kadhimi’s intentions to reform and improve the conditions of Iraq and the Iraqis. However, a lack of international support might cause Al-Kadhimi’s rebuild project to fail even before it started.
In Syria, Israeli strikes have prompted Iran to step back; moreover the Caesar Act has prevented Russia from starting its rebuild project in Damascus. Nevertheless, this step back does not mean that Iran will call all its militias back to Tehran.
Lebanon needs its own miracle because Iran is currently exercising full control of Beirut through its oldest and most loyal ally, Hezbollah. The group currently controls all political apparatuses in the country and claims to be doing so in the name of “civil harmony”.
Iran’s regional hegemony project has cost it a lot, but it won’t throw away 40 years of effort because of popular and economic pressures. It is still waiting for an opportunity to come to a new agreement with the US, though it might have to wait until after the next elections for such an opportunity to arise. Iran is still holding on to the puppet strings of the region, even if it’s changing its method it is still maintaining its end goal. As Khamenei said a few days ago, his country is engaged in a perpetual political and intellectual soft war, which sometimes evolves into a hard war.
Stopping Iran’s ambitions will need a coordinated effort from all of those who live under its iron grip, if that doesn’t happen then our dreams for sovereignty will remain dreams for the forseable future.