Iraqis began voting Wednesday in their country’s first election since US troops left it in 2011.
The vote took place amid violence at polling stations and after years of sectarian strife, clear signs that Iraq has yet to emerge whole from the fighting that tore it apart.
What does this have to do with Iran, you might ask? Everything, according to some analysts. In an op-ed in The Guardian, Ranj Alaaldin said Iran, and not any Iraqi sect or politician, would be the true winner of its neighbor’s historic election. With Iraq facing an Islamist terrorist resurgence and a spillover from the Syrian civil war, its Shi’ite government has, in recent years, allowed Assad-bound Iranian arms shipments to pass through it and turned a blind eye on Iran-sponsored Shi’ite militant activity – including massacres – in the region.
While this is well and good for Iran and Assad, for Iraq, it only spells more sectarian strife and mistrust between the country’s Shias and Sunnis, dimming the prospect of national unity, Alaaldin stated. And ultimately, “as with previous elections it will be Iran that emerges as the ultimate winner and decision-maker.”
In a Wednesday editorial, The Financial Times likewise suggested the reelection of Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has depended on Iranian-trained militias for support, will lead to the breakup of the Iraqi state – unless Iran decides to step back from the Iraqi political (and military) arena, as it did in Lebanon.
AFP’s Mohammad Ali Harissi came up with a similar analysis, saying Iran could become a “silent voter” in Iraq’s elections in light of its “direct control” over some political parties there. The New Yorker published an in-depth analysis by Dexter Filkins detailing the history of Iranian-Iraqi ties in recent decades – overshadowed by Iraqi fears that Iran controls their country.
Iran’s influence on Iraqi affairs is indisputable. But whether it steps back and allows the country to rebuild the fragile fabric of its society and government remains to be seen.