It seems that, at least for now, the specter of the Iran-Iraq war is buried deep in the past with Iraq’s former dictator Saddam Hussein. And while Iraq has been steadily imploding for the past few years due to internal strife, Iran’s world smile offensive has placed it in a unique position to take the Tehran-Baghdad relationship to the next level – a level which will place Iraq in company with Lebanon and Syria.
Iran is investing in its Northern neighbor – ideologically, militarily and financially. Iraq’s Shia population is a powerful incentive for Tehran’s Islamist regime and such populations usually preclude subversive efforts by Iran such as in the case of Bahrain.
But in the case of Iraq, as in Lebanon and Syria, subversion is supported by military might in efforts to fight Al Qaeda Sunni terrorism operating relatively freely in Iraq. Essentially, Iran has evolved into a key player in the Iraqi landscape, a terror-infested country that is undergoing a radical change since its dictator has fallen. Right now, Iranian Qods and IRGC forces are involved in fighting in Iraqi territory while Iraq, on its part, is keeping Iran’s interests closely guarded.
And as befits the Rouhani presidency, money is a key issue and Baghdad seems geared to become a business partner for Tehran’s economic ambitions.Iran’s interests in Iraq are mostly economic – it wants to export its gas across the border, since the regime is short on cash. Also, the two countries want to team up and take on the Saudis in the international oil market.
This situation should alarm everyone in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Iran, riding on waves of its smile diplomacy, is gaining strength, both politically and economically. It wants to sell weapons to Iraq (Iraq Is actually buying weapons from the US) and to expand its control over the region.
Iran’s influence in Lebanon and Syria are long-standing: its influence in Iraq is still in its infancy but Iran needs to take control over Iraq quickly – a weak Iraq will create pockets of unruly terrorism close to Iran and a strong Iraq will place its Sunni might against Shia Iran.
Furthermore, Iraq is much closer to home and fits in with Iran’s world vision of dominating the Middle East. You can expect a lot of Iranian shadow diplomacy in Baghdad in which diplomats and Qods forces will pull strings and set up infrastructures of rule.