Nir Rosen, unembedded journalist and author of Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World, graciously permits Lobe Log to publish some of his preliminary thoughts on the fears being raised about Iran ahead of the U.S.’s impending withdrawal from Iraq.
By Nir Rosen
With the U.S. withdrawal coming up we are going to be subjected to an assault of alarmist articles about the role of Iran in Iraq. It makes me hope I won’t have an Internet connection for the next two months. There is this silly fear that there is a “vacuum” in Iraq that will result from an U.S. departure, but there is no vacuum because the Iraqis are there.
The real U.S. withdrawal, the real test, took place in 2009 when they largely withdrew from cities, towns and streets and stayed in U.S. bases. That’s when Iraq became in essence occupied by Iraqi security forces and most Iraqis didn’t see Americans anymore.
Then, last year before the pretend withdrawal of “combat” troops, there were similar alarmist concerns about Iran. But nothing changed. The same Iraqi security forces manned checkpoints around the country and conducted operations, and nothing will change now. That’s because the U.S. was not doing much on the ground in Iraq.
Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was mainly running the show so there was neither a political nor a security vacuum, nor will there be one now. When the Americans were in Iraq they posed an existential threat to Iran. Regime change in Iran was practically an open U.S. policy, so the Iranians were given a perfectly good reason to blow up the occasional American soldier or undermine U.S. ambitions. The Iranians are also paranoid about an openly anti-Iranian government in Iraq because they remember what Saddam Hussein did to them. They therefore have an interest in preventing the likes of Ayad Allawi from taking power, something which is unlikely to happen anyway.
One real mistake is thinking that the Badr and Mahdi militias still exist. That hasn’t been an issue since 2008. We don’t see militias on the ground, but we see the Iraqi security forces everywhere. The militia phase of Iraq is long over and the Badr militia has long been incorporated into the state, so it’s wrong to think of them as a militia anymore. Likewise, there is no real Mahdi army to speak of. Militias in Iraq can no longer hold a neighborhood, a street, or even a checkpoint. We have more gang-like violence and assassination squads of course, but not militias.
Why would the Iranians have to wait for this final U.S. departure to deepen their influence? Who was stopping them until now? What were the Americans doing to prevent anybody from influencing things in Iraq since 2009? Not much, and what about al-Maliki? He is no Iranian pawn. He doesn’t even like Iran (nor do most Iraqis) and al-Maliki is in control of a very powerful state.
What about Turkish influence which is very significant? Why is Iranian influence worse than U.S. influence? The Americans have caused far more damage in Iraq than the Iranians have.