Tehran, Iran – Iran has an interest in the stability of its western neighbor Iraq, which has just experienced two days of deadly violence after months of political unrest.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein landed in Tehran early Monday for high-level meetings, shortly before powerful religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr claimed he was withdrawing from politics, prompting his supporters to storm the government headquarters in Baghdad.
The clashes that followed and continued on Tuesday between the sadistic movement’s supporters and security forces in the city’s Green Zone left at least 30 dead and many more injured.
Al-Sadr gave his supporters 60 minutes to leave the zone on Tuesday afternoon and apologized in a move seen by some analysts as an attempt to evade responsibility, but which nevertheless led to the restoration of a relative state of calm.
During the two days of chaos, Iranian authorities remained relatively silent on the political aspects, focusing primarily on ensuring the safety and security of thousands of Iranian pilgrims traveling by land or air to Iraq for the Arbaeen rallies.
After calm was restored, Iran’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Wednesday thanking the government and the people of Iraq for “enduring a great sedition” through their patience and tact.
In addition to Tehran’s next round of direct negotiations with rival Saudi Arabia, which has been postponed due to instability in host Iraq, the Iraqi foreign minister also discussed local politics in the Iranian capital.
“Establishing security and stability in Iraq can only be facilitated through a constitutional dialogue between all political factions of the country, with the aim of reaching consensus on the formation of a new government,” Iran’s government said. President Ebrahim Raisi v Hussein. website.
“Iraq’s initiatives and efforts to improve the atmosphere of cooperation between regional countries without foreign intervention will be effective in strengthening regional convergence,” Raisi also said in a jab at the US and Western presence in Iraq and in the United States. whole region.
The Iranian president’s comments seemingly ran counter to al-Sadr’s “revolutionary” stance, as his movement had spent nearly 10 months trying to form a “majority national government” after winning the October 2021 parliamentary election, before his lawmakers resign en masse. .
Iran supported the constitutional consensus mechanism formed in the post-2003 US invasion era, but al-Sadr has at times presented himself as an opponent of Iranian influence in Iraq, despite having some ties to Iran. had. himself, after studying in the seminaries in the Iranian city of Qom.
‘Political dead end’
According to Mohammad Saleh Sedghian, director of the Arab Center for Iranian Studies, Iran is not interested in micromanaging Iraqi politics, but prioritizes any destabilization that could endanger its own national security.
“The most important thing for Iran is that there must be stability in Iraq. The two have a shared 1,400km [870-mile]-long border and were at war for eight years [during the 1980s]and now every security problem in Iraq is somehow reflected in Iran, be it good or bad,” Sedghian told Al Jazeera.
“When the sadistic movement occupied the Iraqi parliament building, Iran did not interfere and does not want to interfere now.”
But regardless of what Iran wants, the analyst said al-Sadr has reached a “political dead end” on multiple fronts.
First, Sedghian said, the powerful figure sought to form a government by joining Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani and Sunni leader Mohamed Al-Halbousi, who both exert influence but do not represent the entirety of their respective groups and people.
This led to the forced dissolution of parliament, followed by an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to close the judiciary.
Another major blow was dealt to al-Sadr when Shia spiritual leader Ayatollah Kadhim al-Haeri, who lives in Qom, made the surprising announcement on Sunday that he was stepping down as a religious authority for health reasons.
He said his followers should imitate Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, instead of the Shia centers in the holy Iraqi city of Najaf.
Al-Haeri is not the greatest marji’ (Shia authority) in Qom or Najaf, but he had close ties to Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Muhammad-Sadiq al-Sadr, Muqtada’s father, who soon selected him in his will as the next marji ‘. before he was assassinated in 1999 for resisting Saddam Hussein’s rule.
“Haeri actually told al-Sadr that you are not a mujtahid. are [religious authority] and that’s why you don’t have the sharia qualifications for top political leadership. This was the last straw after al-Sadr’s political defeats in recent months, which left him with no choice but to withdraw from political life,” Sedghian said.
However, the analyst pointed out that this may not be al-Sadr’s last appearance as a politician, as he has previously withdrawn and made comebacks, but predicted he will be out for at least five years due to the gravity of Monday’s events. and Tuesday.
Iran and Iraq have historical, cultural and religious ties that make the two “deeply intertwined” like no other of the countries in their vicinity, according to Middle East analyst and former Iranian diplomat Hadi Afghahi.
“Afghanistan cannot replace Iraq for Iran, nor can Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan or even Turkey – with whom we have a greater volume of trade than Iraq,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Especially in meetings with senior Iraqi officials who come to visit the Supreme Leader, I have often heard the Supreme Leader clearly state that Iraq is Iran’s strategic depth and Iran is Iraq’s strategic depth. He doesn’t say that lightly or about many other countries.”
According to Afghahi, the US and Israel would rather see Iraq split into Shia, Sunni and Kurdish divisions, at the expense of Iraq, Iran and the region.
“Iraq’s unity, territorial integrity and security is paramount to the Islamic Republic, and the more stable Iraq is, the more it will benefit both nations,” he said.
The analyst is still not convinced al-Sadr is leaving politics, as the leader has made the announcement several times before, adding that he views al-Sadr’s latest move as “emotional and psychological maneuvers” aimed at his followers.
“But after the recent events in the Green Zone and the bloody fighting, things are not going back to where they were before,” Afghahi said, adding that the Iran-backed Coordinating Framework Alliance is now in a stronger position after the blows dealt to al-Sadr.
“I think al-Sadr is now in a very weakened and vulnerable position. His comments at Tuesday’s press conference showed weakness and fear of the consequences of the blood spilled and the security situation in Iraq for himself and his followers,” he said.
He said it remains to be seen whether the Coordination Framework can restore parliament and form its own government, or whether al-Sadr will intervene again.
“All eyes are now on al-Sadr, as well as on the judiciary and parliament and” [caretaker prime minister] Mustafa Al-Kadhimi to see if they will continue to keep their weapons Saraya al-Salam of al-Sadr or if they will be disarmed,” he said.
“And we need to see if a possible disarmament will take place peacefully or create a new battle of its own.”