It is received wisdom among many, that because Iran has not declared war on any foreign power for centuries, that this somehow automatically makes contemporary Iran something of a sainted player in the Middle East. But this is not entirely the case.
For decades, under both the Imperial reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi as well as under the Islamic Republic, Iran was deeply desirous of having a more active presence in the Arab world.
Until 2003, this did not happen. Then, however, strange bedfellows were made. There is scarcely anything that Iran and Israel have in common. One thing, however, was a desire to see the end of Ba’athist rule over Iraq, particularly the Ba’athist rule of Saddam Hussein.
Due to the precarious borders of the new state of Iraq, drawn in the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, the country included both Arabs and Kurds, Shi’a and Sunni, Christian and Jew. Only Lebanon had more factions at play.
Since 1968 the Ba’ath party, first under the assured leadership of Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and later under the more ambitious and at times misguided leadership of Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti, managed to do the near-impossible in Iraq. They created a largely united country, they created a united Iraqi identity based on the fusion of modern secular Ba’athist concepts of Arabism with ancient Mesopotamian history, traditions of mythology.
A country like Iraq was easier to break down than build up. The difficulty in uniting the country between 1958 when the Hashemite Monarchy was overthrown up to 1968, is a testament to this difficulty, as is the situation of war and terrorism that has gripped the country since the Ba’ath party was overthrown by America and Britain in 2003. But between 1968 and 2003, the Ba’ath party did a remarkably good job in creating functional unity.
I have said many times that it was al-Bakr who remains the best Iraqi leader in modern history. He was a man who lifted millions out of poverty, built massive infrastructural projects, educated millions including women and ruled over a peaceful, prosperous, secular Iraq.
Unlike Al-Bakr, Saddam’s ego very frequently got in the way of things. He should have never declared war on the Islamic Republic of Iran, but to be fair, he was given a great deal of false hope by western countries who were never his real allies. The Soviets were always a far more reliable partner for Baghdad than the likes of France, West Germany, Britain, and the United States.
But Saddam still kept his country unified to a great degree in spite of Kurdish risings in the north and Shi’a insurrections in the south, often covertly aided by Iranian forces and Iranian money. In this sense, it is fair to say that Iran has been trying to Balkanise Iraq since the 1980s.
Alternative media has generally been very good at demonstrating that Saddam was an unflinching ally of Palestine who was not afraid to use Iraq’s military might in the defense of Palestinians. This was enough for Iraq to incur the hatred of Zionists.
But what is less reported is that in spite of the public rhetoric, Teheran salivated at the idea of the US-UK invasion of Iraq in 2003 as much as Tel Aviv. The Iranians knew full well that if Saddam and Ba’athism were to fall, they could easily walk into Southern Iraq and do what they’ve wanted to do there for years, rule a part of the Arab world like a satrapy.
Iranian influence in the current Parliament in Baghdad is palpable. It was through the western destruction of Iraq, that Iran achieved her long-desired goal of a place of rule in the Arab world.
As someone who has constantly advocated for Arab unity, the idea of any foreign/non-Arab power, ruling parts of the Arab world is abhorrent. It is why I oppose the illegal Turkish occupation of parts of Syria, it is why I oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine and it is why I oppose Iranian ambitions in Iraq and anywhere else in the Arab world.
I will be the first to say that in Syria, Iran has been on the right side of history and has helped do a great deal in aiding the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic in combating terrorism. But in Iraq, Iran’s role is more ambiguous.
It is true that Iran is a dead set opponent of the Satanic wickedness called Wahhabism/Salafism, but it is also true that in carving out southern Iraq as a vassal state, Iran has done much to augment divides between Sunni and Shi’a Arabs that the Ba’ath party worked so hard to minimize. This, in turn, has made it easier for groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda to exploit post-Ba’ath tensions in Sunni regions of Iraq. One must never forget that many of Saddam’s inner circle included Christians and Shi’a Muslims. His government was not sectarian as many in the west falsely accuse it of being.
Both al-Bakr and General Nasser would be turning in their graves if they knew that Iran had so much influence in Iraq in 2017.
This is not to say that I’m part of the violently anti-Iranian movement of the west. This is, of course, a nonsensical movement guided by emotion rather than reality. Iran is a sovereign state and must remain so. No one has a legal nor moral justification to invade Iran.
What I am lamenting is that for many on the anti-globalist, pro-multipolar side of things, all objectivity on Iran’s ambitions in the Arab world seems to have been lost. Just because Iran is not Saudi Arabia, not Turkey and not Israel, doesn’t automatically absolve Iran of any and all wrongdoing in the Arab world.
Iran is indeed a moderate regional power, be she does have her own ambitions for the Arab world.
Iraq may never again be as stable as she once was. Iran and Israel are quietly happy about this. But many Arabs are angry, and they have every right to be.