Why the 2003 War Is Not to Blame for Unrest in Iraq

Correcting a false media narrative.

From the perspective of leftists and liberal mainstream media outlets, US foreign policy circa 2003 is to blame for all the instabilities and conflicts in the Middle East and Muslim world. 

Intriguingly, this perspective is in alignment with the Islamist philosophy of blaming the US for everything. 

However, the leftists’ approach of analyzing the instabilities in other countries is unsophisticated and does not reflect the complexities and realities on the ground. Let’s examine Iraq and the current protests in Baghdad, for example. 

Hundreds of followers of the Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr stormed into the Iraqi parliament building this week, demanding that its speaker halt the session.  The prime minister, Haidar al Abadi, warned that these protests could lead to the state’s failure.

The leftists’ take on this is that these uprising are happening because of the 2003 US-Iraq war. However, this is very convenient. It seems that their answer to why there is violence in Iraq or other Muslim countries has always been blaming the US for the 2003 war. 

They hardly discuss the underlying reasons for the protests, such as the Iranian regime’s role in Iraq. For example, Muqtada al-Sadr, who led the protests and violence, is someone who is trained, financed, and supported by Iran. He studied in the city of Qum, a place where radical Shiite figures are brainwashed, for several years. After these protests, Moqtada al-Sadr also travelled to Iran. 

Currently, some of the powerful Iraqi Shiite groups that Iran has close connections with and is investing its resources in are Sadr’s Promised Day Brigade—the successor to the Mahdi Army—the Badr Organization, Asa’ib Ahl al Haqq (League of the Righteous) and Kata’ib Hezbollah (Battalions of Hezbollah). 

Iranian leaders have spread the narrative throughout their media that Iran is the savior of Iraq, that Iraq is following in the footsteps of the Islamic Republic’s revolution and that Iran has the obligation to support the Iraqi people for humanitarian reasons. 

When it comes to Iran’s role in Iraq, Iranian leaders – across the political spectrum, including reformist, moderates, and hardliners – follow the directions of the key decision makers: the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). 

For example, even the pragmatist Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the chairman of the Expediency Council and supporter of President Rouhani, pointed out this week that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s support to the Iraqi government and Iraqi people is anchored in humanitarian and Islamic principles. He stated during a meeting with Jan Kubis, the UN special envoy for Iraq, “Iran is ready to cooperate in various areas if the international community and the UN are honest and determined to solve Iraq’s problem.” 

Any opposition from Iran’s political figures towards Iran’s current role in Iraq would mean opposition to Mr. Khamenei and the IRGC. Their opposition would most likely lead to the death of their political lives and they would never again be approved by the Guardian Council to run for government positions. 

Iran’s propaganda regarding Iraq contradicts the reality.  Iran has utilized its soft and hard power, as well as its sectarian agenda, skillfully to exert influence in Iraq. On the one hand, Iran’s social, religious and cultural affinities with the Shiite population in Iraq have provided the Islamic Republic with a powerful platform to exert influence in Iraq. In addition, economically speaking, Tehran has used trade to ratchet up its leverage in Baghdad. The Islamic State has also provided Iranian leaders with the venue and excuse to increase Tehran’s military presence in Iraq and further dominate Iraqi’s security, intelligence and political establishments. 

On the other hand, by establishing ties, training, financing, unifying and arming Iraqi Shiite militias, Iran seeks to accomplish several objectives the foremost of which are to assist the Shiite militias to achieve political successes in Iraq and enter the parliament and have a say in the internal affairs of Baghdad. This will ensure Iran’s influence in Iraq for the long-term. Reportedly, Iran has repeatedly attempted to encourage the followers of Dawa and Sadr to unite in order to win more seats in the elections, and Tehran had funded its preferred candidates in the parliamentary elections. 

If the Iraqi government becomes reluctant in preserving Tehran’s political and economic interests in Baghdad, IRGC leaders can threaten the government by showing their influence through provoking the Shiite Iraqi leaders to protest against the government and threaten their hold-on-power. In addition, the Iraqi Shiite militias allow Iran to exert more influence in Iraq, tipping the regional balance of power in favor of Iran and against the United States. The political instability will continue to persist in Iraq, mainly due to Iran’s sectarian agenda, IRGC support for Shiite militias, and Iran’s policy of divide and rule. 

The leftists need to realize that Iran and Islamism are two crucial factors in the ongoing violence and conflict in the region. Blaming the 2003 policies of the US for all Middle Eastern conflicts misleads the population and shows a very unsophisticated and naïve way of examining US foreign policy and the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Muslim world.