TIP CEO: Iraq is First Test of U.S. Pushback Against Iran’s Regional Influence

“Any discussion of an end to Iran’s power grab in Iraq would be premature — speculative at best, and potentially dangerous,” TIP CEO and President, Joshua S. Block, warned in an op-ed for The Hill published on Friday. Block argued that “Iraq would be a good place to start to put Pompeo’s words to the test,” referring to the Secretary of State’s speech from earlier this week, in which he outlined the White House’s new Iran strategy.

In the first parliamentary election in Iraq since the defeat of the terror group ISIS, the political bloc led by notorious Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr emerged as the strongest force, beating his rival, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the candidate supported by the United States.

Al-Sadr, a sectarian leader with a long history of anti-American propaganda who controls powerful militias responsible for the killing of U.S. servicemen during the 2003 Iraq war, scored a surprising victory on a national and anti-corruption ticket, critical of outside interference in Iraqi politics.

However, Block said, “While al-Sadr’s victory complicates the situation for Tehran, the election turned America’s Iraq policy upside down, thus placing vital U.S. interests in the country at severe risk.”

For Iran, exerting influence in Iraq is an important step in its empire building – the creation of a “Shiite full moon” – a corridor connecting the Islamic Republic with Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.

According to Block, on the day the election took place on May 12, “Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the Islamic Republic’s IRGC-Quds Force, arrived in Baghdad to push for the formation of an Iraqi government favorable to Iran’s interests.” He warned that al-Abadi’s “poor showing” in the election left “Iraq exposed to Iranian attempts to dominate the country.”

He continued: “While al-Sadr is critical of Iran’s interference in internal Iraqi politics, he’s determined to expel the United States from the region at all cost — a shared goal that could lead to a marriage of convenience between al-Sadr’s Sairoun bloc and Iranian-backed al-Ameri’s Fatih Coalition.”

Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of one of Iraq’s most powerful paramilitary groups, the Badr Organization, an Iranian-sponsored Shiite militia, is firmly in the pocket of Tehran. Together with the strong showing of the Hash’d al Shaabi, an umbrella organization of hundreds of thousands of Shiite fighters, Iran is well positioned to shape the future landscape of Iraq.

Block argued for the U.S. to turn the situation in its favor “a serious, coherent and long-term strategy” is required. “America pulling out of Iraq — and for that matter, out of Syria, leaving the country at the mercy of Iranian mercenaries — is an idea that U.S. policymakers should bury for good,” he stated.

Block called for a “multiethnic U.S.-aligned bloc composed of local forces opposed to Iranian interference,” comprised of, amongst others, Kurdish and Sunni Muslim communities fearful of Tehran’s sectarian agenda.

According to Block, the U.S. should “abandon its ill-advised strategy of placing all hope in al-Abadi,” and instead insist that “U.S. patronage will depend on a fair power-sharing agreement between the country’s various ethnic and religious groups,” – the best chance to undermine Iran’s malign activity in Iraq.

Block concluded that, “Withdrawing from the JCPOA was the beginning of countering Iran’s illicit activities, but for the White House’s strategy to work, the nuclear accord needs to be replaced by a broader strategy that addresses all of Iran’s malign behavior.” He added: “Iraq would be a good place to start to put Pompeo’s words to the test.”

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