The protests in Iraq are about corruption, failed promises and rejecting Iranian influence, right? Certainly, but don’t let that blind you to what is really in play. The Iraqi government is in danger of falling and any new version will undoubtedly be much more heavily influenced by Iran. It will also be significantly less influenced by the United States and most likely even less representative of the minority Sunni and Kurds.
The leader of the unrest is Muqtada al Sadr, head of the Shiite Muslim Sadrist political movement and its associated militia group. He was a huge problem during Operation Iraqi Freedom and his militia was one of the worst perpetrators of sectarian violence. When the Surge of U.S. troops in 2006 put pressure on him, he fled to Iran in 2007 and stayed there though 2011. Since returning to Iraq, he has been a populist rabble-rouser and his followers stormed the Green Zone and occupied the Iraqi Parliament last week.
They were complaining about the government’s lack of follow through on public works projects and overall dismal performance in making life better for the average Iraqi, well the average Shiite Iraqi. Have no doubt; they do not care about the Sunni or Kurdish citizens. They would likely push them out of the government and under the iron sandal of a Shiite majority if given the opportunity.
While the protesters may be chanting anti-Iranian slogans, they and the process of toppling this government are all very satisfactory to the Mullahs in Iran.
The Surge successfully paved the way for an Iraqi government in 2006 that represented all three major ethnic groups, this was largely due to American influence. There was no guarantee this shaky federal republic would succeed, but to do so it needed the firm hand of the United States military to keep it together. President Obama was elected in 2008 and made good on his campaign promise to “end” the U.S. military presence in Iraq. This inevitably led to an increased Iranian influence and the resurgence of the Sunni insurgency, which became ISIS.
The only reason the minority Kurds and Sunni got a somewhat fair shake in the Iraqi government was because the U.S. required it. Obama has taken the U.S. out of the game, and if a new government is formed, it will likely be a Shiite Islamic Republic very tightly allied with and influenced by Iran. That is only a good thing if, like Obama, you are delusional enough to believe the Iranians are a force for good. For the rest of us sentient beings, the Mullahs are a nightmare, Iran is the largest state sponsor of terrorism and horrifyingly soon will be a nuclear-armed power.
Back in the current kerfuffle, Sadr himself is of mixed Iraqi/Iranian descent and has spent plenty of time in Iran. The fact that his supporters are complaining about Iranian influence does not mean they aren’t acting in accordance with the wishes of their neighbor. The other Shiite militias like the Badr Organization may be directly tied to the Mullahs and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, but Sadr is not too far removed either. And in the end, a Sadr led Shiite-dominated new government will be a very good friend and partner to Iran.
This has bad implications for the fight against ISIS, but since Obama has never shown any interest in actually prosecuting that fight, it may actually turn out worse for ISIS. The Shiite militias hate ISIS and they have already been getting some good sectarian slaughtering in during the retaking of Ramadi. The repressive rules of engagement Obama forced on our forces make it almost impossible to get permission to take a shot anywhere civilians could possibly be. That not only doesn’t apply to the Iranian-backed militias, they really hate the Sunni civilians where ISIS operates. So killing them is just a bonus, and the militias have been cashing in by pillaging after they lay waste to the Sunni areas.
So what can be done? Obama lost the peace and any chance to midwife a reasonably stable situation when he decided to cut and run, so there’s basically nothing impactful we can do until he packs and leaves. At the first sound of the White House doors shutting behind him, it is probably time to give up on the Federal Government of Iraq. So let’s stop trying to cobble together three groups that hate each other: Shia, Sunni and Kurd. The U.S. should call for a partition into three separate countries and let each have a chance to run their own affairs.
The Kurds already have a state in everything other than recognition; the Shiites are perfectly happy with their Iranian friends; and, the wild card is the Sunni regions where ISIS is entrenched. The tribes who live there are the same ones who allied with the U.S. in 2006 to kill the ISIS precursor al Qaeda in Iraq. If we offer the Sunni their own state and some real help, they may help us Cut Down the Black Flag. This is the Center for Security Policy’s plan to do everything just mentioned. It sure beats just standing on the sidelines watching everything our brave troops sacrificed get washed away in Sadr’s Iraqi populism and Iran’s increasing hegemony.