The dust is settling after a national election battle in Iraq, and the surprisingly strong showing of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr appears to have struck a decisive blow to long-waning US influence in the country’s politics. But despite al-Sadr’s Shia religious affiliation, his electoral success could also upset Iran’s designs for Iraq.
While US influence in Iraqi politics has been on the decline for more than a decade, Iran, which like Iraq has a Shiite-majority population, has been steadily gaining clout.
But the strong nationalist views held by the “firebrand” cleric – as al-Sadr was often described in his days as a militia leader fighting US troops – have some speculating that he will create a bulwark against growing Iranian influence.
The Guardian asked on Tuesday whether we had reached “peak Iran,” placing the Iran-allied ticket’s second-place finish in the context of broader developments in the Middle East.
“Iran, meanwhile, risks being outmaneuvered diplomatically. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, was in Moscow again last week, aligning his interests in Syria with those of Vladimir Putin. Israel forewarned Russia of last week’s attacks.
“Such coordination is becoming routine. Viewed from Tehran, Russia, ostensibly Iran’s brother-in-arms in Syria, is increasingly unreliable. Its Saudi foes are greatly encouraged by [US President Donald] Trump’s offensive.
“Iran’s regional leadership pretensions are also under challenge on religious and ideological grounds. Just as many Iraqi voters resent Tehran’s domineering, neocolonial behavior, Shias around the region appear to be looking again to Najaf, the historical capital of Shiadom, rather than to Qom, the Iranian holy city that usurped its role during Saddam Hussein’s Sunni dictatorship.”
If one is looking for some insight into al-Sadr’s views of Iraq’s foreign relations, the photo-op below might shed some light. After a meeting with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in July, a statement from al-Sadr’s office said, “We have been very pleased with what we found to be a positive breakthrough in the Saudi-Iraqi relations, and we hope it is the beginning of the retreat of sectarian strife in the Arab-Islamic region.”
— Yadgar Fayeq (@YadgarFayeq) May 14, 2018