It has been more than a month-and-a-half since US officials concluded that an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil pipeline was orchestrated by pro-Iran Shia militants operating out of southern Iraq and about the same amount of time since US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the issue with the Iraqi government.
Despite US “pressure” on the Iraqis to act, Baghdad denied the involvement of Tehran’s proxies or that an attack was launched from Iraqi soil and opted to ignore Washington, demonstrating who holds most of the cards in the tug-of-war for influence between Iran and the United States.
The US Department of Defence and the US State Department said one of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) militias, Kata’ib Hezbollah, was responsible for the attack on Saudi oil infrastructure and not fellow IRGC proxies, the Yemeni Houthi rebels who initially claimed responsibility for the attack.
Because of the IRGC’s influence in Iraq, it uses the country as a launchpad to strike at or simply threaten not only US interests but also American allies and cause instability in global energy markets. Other attacks in Iraq included military facilities housing US troops and operations of oil companies working Iraq’s southern oil fields.
The IRGC has outmaneuvered the United States at every turn in Iraq and embarrass the Americans by arming their proxies with weaponized drones with which they have attacked against US allies, such as Saudi Arabia.
The irony should not be lost on anyone who has noticed that Iraq is supposed to be a US ally but allows its territory to be used to attack Washington’s other friends. The Iraqi government owes its very existence to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein, only to replace him with a tyrannical Frankenstein’s monster of a democracy.
The laughable thing is that, even if a handful of people in the Iraqi government wanted to end the IRGC proxies running amok across Iraq, the very arms of government and the security forces are filled to the brim with Iranian agents.
Take Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, for example. Following Saudi and US pressure, he recently ordered all militias to either disarm and join the political process or merge into the Iraqi armed forces. Not only is Abdul-Mahdi’s suggestion unworkable, because it does not remove the problem of Iranian influence, the militias have ignored previous calls to disarm.
Abdul-Mahdi was a high-ranking member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, itself an Iran-incubated Shia Islamist political project that sought to implement Iran’s brand of Khomeinism in Iraq.
Is it therefore any surprise at all that the Iraqi government, when led by the likes of Abdul-Mahdi and countless other elites who owe their loyalty to Iran, will act in Tehran’s best interests at the expense of Washington’s or indeed the Iraqi people’s?
Iraqi IRGC agents such as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis hold official government positions and have access to a portion of the defence and security budget as well as copious amounts of government-supplied US armaments.
The United States must no longer mollycoddle the Iraqi administration and must use firmer measures to ensure compliance and to create an effective pushback against malign Iranian influence.
Washington could halt sanctions waivers for Iraq and force it to comply with international sanctions against Iran or risk catastrophic economic damage. This may serve as a sobering reminder for Baghdad to stop risking the Iraqi people’s stability and future by putting them in the middle of a fight for influence between the United States and Iran.