Iran-US regional face-off will grow with Iraq in focus

Iran-US regional face-off will grow with Iraq in focus

Baku, Azerbaijan, May 21

By Azer Ahmadbayli – Trend:

Washington's withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran further increases the degree of confrontation between the two countries in the region, and Iraq is not an exception.

After the parliamentary elections in Iraq have taken place this week, and the appearance of new figures in the political scene, the balance of power will change one way or another.

The election of the new government and the Prime Minister give rise to both fear and hope, depending on what policy the new authorities of the country will pursue. Tehran has a strategic aim to maintain its strong influence in Iraq, while Washington has a chance to break the so-called Shiite arc or Iranian land bridge – call it as you like.

Three parties have been so far leading in the polls to gain the majority of seats in the Parliament: Sadrist movement with about 55 seats, Victory alliance led by outgoing Prime-Minister al-Abadi with 51, and pro-Iranian Fatah alliance headed by Hadi al-Amiri with 50.

It is clear that none of the parties or movements cannot solely form the next government and will therefore need to create coalitions to gain the majority in Parliament and the future Cabinet. That is, the intrigue is still ahead.

When paying a visit to Iraq in mid-February, Ali Akbar Velayati, Iran Supreme Leader’s adviser on international affairs, made statements on the then forthcoming parliament elections, which caused a negative reaction among the Iraqi political circles. “We will not allow liberals and communists to govern in Iraq,” Velayati then said.

He was referring to the alliance between the Sadrist movement and the Iraqi Communist Party – the same alliance, which is now leading the electoral race.

However, the same Velayati said a couple of days ago that the elections were very successful, and congratulated the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people.

By the way, why has such a seemingly incredible alliance between Shi'ite clergymen and Communists become possible, given the polar ideologies? As many analysts believe, the ground of the alliance is a purely pragmatic approach for the sake of the state’s survival: the eradication of corruption devouring the remnants of the Iraqi statehood, the creation of a technocratic government that will deal with the post-war reconstruction of the country, the rejection of sectarian strife and the preservation of the secular system in the country, as well as an independent state policy.

Moqtada al-Sadr as the leader of the faction of the majority will most likely have the final say in choosing the new Prime Minister.

Sadr is a Shiite cleric – a fact that is congenial to Iran, but at the same time he is a nationalist and an ardent supporter of Arab identity – another fact, which is welcomed by Saudi Arabia. He had armed clashes with the US, but that was long ago, in 2004, and much has changed in Iraq and the region since then.

“We have a good relationship – bless you – with the Government of Iraq, and we believe that we will continue to do that”, said Heather Nauert, the spokesperson for the US state department at a press briefing in Washington commenting on recently held elections.

Responding to a question whether the US feels comfortable that the leading two party lists include people who were opposed to the United States presence in Iraq up to 2011, she said: “We are very well aware of Moqtada al-Sadr and his background and his positions now.”

Many are guessing now what policy the new Iraqi power is going to pursue, oversimplifying it to a mere choice between pro-American and pro-Iranian courses.

But in fact some preliminary details have been just revealed, which helps to explain what’s happening.

The Iranian Tasnim agency quotes Moktada al-Sadr, who announced after the preliminary results of the elections that he plans to create a coalition with Ammar Hakim and Ayad Allawi to form a technocratic government in the country.

He also said that the country should move towards reforms and the formation of a new generation in Iraq.

As a future Prime Minister, he sees Ali Dawai Lazem, who has been a two-term incumbent Governor of the province of Maysan. He is very popular among Iraqis because of his simplicity to communicate and practical activities in the implementation of infrastructure and public services projects in the province.

The post-war reconstruction of Iraq requires about $ 88 billion. Despite the fact that Iraq is the world’s third largest oil exporter and gets significant revenues from that, the country will hardly be able to accomplish the task on its own.

The main argument for winning hearts and minds of both the Iraqi authorities and the Iraqi street will be technical and financial assistance in the post-war economic recovery process and investment in the Iraqi economy. And here the chances of Saudi Arabia and its Western allies look stronger.

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