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Iranian Political and Military Interests in Post 9/11 Iraq

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DEFENSE LANGUAGE INSTITUTE FOREIGN LANGUAGE CENTER (UPF)

Iranian Political and Military Interests in Post 9/11 Iraq

BY A1C, STOUT, TANNER

PF00417C

January 22, 2018

The Middle East has been a controversial topic of discussion for decades. The struggle for power and religious dominance has caused disagreements, wars, and hostility throughout the countries residing in that region. The Iranian Revolution in 1979 caused a great deal of the issues in the Middle East today. These issues have continued into 2000’s and are still affecting trade and relations in the region. The Middle East is known as a hotbed for terrorist activity. This region has been an area in which terrorist groups formed and terrorist operations have been run, as well as a location with high sponsorship of terrorism. This is one of the main reasons for the United States involvement in the Middle East.

On September 11, 2001 a terrorist group known as Al-Qaeda wreaked havoc on the US when it hijacked four separate planes and destroyed the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon. Immediately following the events of 9/11, the United States declared war on terrorism, which increased US military presence in the Middle East. This led to a main increase in US troops in Iraq, in an attempt to destroy Al-Qaeda. This led to an 8 year long war in the country.

Post 9/11 Iraq was a place of war. In 2003, a United States led coalition invaded Iraq with the hopes of overthrowing the leader Saddam Hussein. After the fall of the Hussein government, the country was open to influence. This resulted in increased interest from Iran in the country. Iran saw this as an opportunity to increase their hold in the Middle East. Firstly, Iran wanted the US out of Iraq so that they could start their plans to influence the country. Secondly, they wanted to keep the Shiite government in power. Thirdly, they want to use Iraq as a tool to expand their reach in the region.

After the overthrow of the Hussein government, largely due the US, new government was in power. The majority of the country ran this government. The Shiite Islamic majority of Iraq was in power and ultimately this boded well for Iran. In order to take advantage of the newfound Iraqi government, Iran needed the United States out of the country. Iran needed them out of the country so that the borders would be unprotected. This would allow Iran to send its goods through the border and start selling its products in the country, effectively increasing its influence.

This also opened up the opportunity to reach other areas of the Middle East. They used their shared border with Iraq to get to Syria. They funded militias fighting against Iraq and sent Shiite militia to fight with Iraq on the Syrian border. This shows that Iran has two different ideas on what it wants to do with Iraq long term. It could either create a failed state by fighting against the government or help to maintain a Shiite government and use Iraq as a resourceful ally. It is unclear though, as to which side they will work harder towards achieving. Either of these options assures that Iraq will never pose a military threat to Iran again. This is the focus of Iran in terms of their overall involvement in Iraq.

Keeping the Shiite government in power is of great importance to Iran because it gives them an uncommon ally as far as religion is concerned. As the majority of the countries in the Middle East are Sunni, this poses an issue for Iran who is majority Shia. Prior to the events of 9/11 a minority Sunni government led Iraq. This caused problem between the two countries including a terrible war in the 1980’s. Ever since this war, Iran has increased its military force to insure that it not be susceptible to an attack.

The third focus of Iran in Iraq is supporting Iraqi federalism. There are two sides to the idea behind this support. The first thing behind this support is to divide Iraq into three regions. Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish regions. Splitting up Iraq has one major benefit for Iran. It weakens the government and increases the power that Iran has over Iraq. The second side is to put a Shiite Islamic State in place in southern Iraq. Having a Shiite state in the south of Iraq would help Iran to strengthen relations and therefore give them high influence over the country as a whole. Iran does not want Iraq to become a democratic state that can be used by the United States. This would look bad on Iran and force them to change their own beliefs into one that differs that of Iraq. This would be the only way to attempt to prove that the Islamist State must remain distant from Western influence.

Iran has shown plenty of interest in the country of Iraq and how much influence that intend to have in the future of the nation’s government. Along with influencing the very government structure itself, Iran also plans to have a role in the religion. As of right now there are two religious leaders in Iraq. Ali al-Sistani who does not believe that the government in Iran is one that would be beneficial to Iraq. He believes that Islamic Law should be in place, but clerics should not rule the country as they do in Iran. The second is Moqtada al-Sadr who supports more religion in political practices. He also has ben know to have much stronger ties to Iran and has agreed to fight alongside the Iranians if the United States was to attack. This provides Iran with a powerful religious leader in Iraq who could potentially enact the religion in politics type government that would benefit Iran. One resembling their own.

Politically, Iran has a lot of interest in Iraq. They also have shown interest from a military standpoint. Since 2014, Iran has been supplying Iraq with military aid in order to help them fight ISIS. Iran has also placed certain high-ranking military officials in Iraq. They have also placed a number of billboards showing the face of a high-ranking official. This shows the new influence that Iran has over Iraq, especially in the capitol Baghdad. One of the main groups in Iraq that shows the Iranian Influence is the Saraya al-Khorasani. Ayatollah Khamenei formed the group in order to combat the Sunni Jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

The leader was General Taghavi who was featured on the billboards in Iraq. He inspired many of the Iraqi Shiite Soldiers. The main purpose of an Iranian military presence in Iraq is to fight terrorism. Both the US and Iran have taken a strong interest in Iraq and ending the terrorist threat in the country. This is great for Iraq and has proven very successful with nearly all of the ISIS held cities being freed. With the benefits to Iraq, come disadvantages to Iran. Having the United States help with the terrorism problem in Iraq makes some problems for Iran. Under the new President, Donald J. Trump, Iran is facing more sanctions and a possible renegotiation of the nuclear treaty. This could potentially make it difficult for Iran to continue its influence in the country.

The topic of the Middle East only becomes increasingly controversial as the United States and Iran both fight for more influence. Ever since the events of 9/11, Iraq has been a place filled with violence and changing government. With the fall of Hussein, and Shiites taking control and the struggle with terrorism the country has been open to much influence of the past decade. This has drawn interest from both the United States and Iran. Iran has gained most of the influence considering their close proximity to Iraq. The majority Shia Muslim population of Iran and Iraq also gives them a shared religious view. In many ways, Iran has already solidified its overall influences in Iraq. Using both political and military, Iran has taken quite a hold on Iraq. It has taken advantage of the common religious views, with the fact that both of the governments are Shiite. It has also taken interest in getting the United States out of the country in order to further its reach in the Middle East. Iran believes that there are two ways of gaining better control and power in the region. Through dividing Iraq into three weaker sections and by fully supporting a religious-political government similar to their own. This has caused some controversy among some in the region. The starting of several military groups in the region has also helped to defeat the terrorism causing problems and to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.

References:

Iran’s Goals in Iraq. (n.d.). Retrieved January 22, 2018, from https: //www.cfr.org/backgrounder/irans-goals-iraq

Newsweek. (2018). Iran and Iraq team up against extremism, which could frustrate U.S. goals. [online] Available at: http: //www.newsweek.com/iran-iraq-military-unite-terrorism-potential-problems-us-641118 [Accessed 22 Jan. 2018].

Arango, T. (2018). Iran Dominates in Iraq After U.S.“Handed the Country Over”. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https: //www.nytimes.com/2017/07/15/world/middleeast/iran-iraq-iranian-power.html [Accessed 22 Jan. 2018].

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