While much of Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s speech to the UN dealt with Iraq’s recent successes and long term political strategy to combat Salafist terrorism, the Iraqi Foreign Minister’s most important remark made during his address to the UN General Assembly was that Iraq seeks to exercise its legal option to create nuclear energy facilities.
This is not the first time Iraq has sought to being producing its own nuclear energy. Beginning in 1979, French nuclear scientists began building a nuclear reactors near Baghdad called Tammuz 1 and 2. The reactors are also referred to by their French name Osirak.
In spite of guarantees from the French scientists that the reactors were incapable of weapons grade enrichment, Israel resorted to numerous illegal measures to stop the project from being successfully competed. This included a state-sponsored assassination of a scientist in Paris. In 1980, agents of Israel’s secret intelligence service, Mossad, killed Yahya El Mashad, an Egyptian national in his hotel room due to his role in the Iraqi nuclear energy programme.
Things became even more heated when in 1981, the Israeli air-force destroyed the still incomplete reactors in Iraq.
The Israeli attack murdered ten Iraqis and one French citizen was condemned by the UN Security Council.
What is less known is that the previous year, Iran attempted to destroy the reactors as part of the Iran-Iraq war. This attempt was not successful.
What has changed today is that whilst the Islamic Republic of Iran was at war with Ba’athist Iraq in the 1980s, Shi’a dominated Iraq is now a strong ally of Iran. No matter how much money the US spends on its protracted and largely unwanted presence in Iraq, Iraq is now controlled by Shi’a leaders who have already moved the country miles away from secular Ba’athism and ever closer towards a model which aspires to Iran style Islamic Democracy.
Iraq never factored into the JCPOA, the 2013 so-called Iran nuclear deal, but with Iraq and Iran becoming closer, there is an almost inevitable tendency that in areas where Iran’s nuclear options are limited, Iraq’s will not be. In this sense, whatever Iran is not able to achieve under the JCPOA which according to the US State Department, the EU and the UN, Iran is in full compliance with, it could potentially achieve on Iraqi soil due to its fraternal alliance with the current leadership in Baghdad.
The US has very few options in this respect. Because of the money the US has spent (some, including myself and Ron Paul would say ‘wasted’) in Iraq, the US is now more committed to Iraq’s territorial integrity than ever before, so much so that it has disassociated itself form the Kurdish secessionist movement which during the rule of Saddam Hussein it was inclined to support.
Furthermore, if the Kurds in northern Iraq do unilaterally separate from Baghdad, the result may be less of an imagined US/Israeli puppet state, than a Turkish occupied state in Iraq, a bit like Northern Cyprus albeit with less clear legal implications.
If, or more likely, when this happens, given America’s increased distance from Ankara, the US will have to limit its attempts to influence Iraq on majority Arab regions of Iraq. The problem is that Shi’a majority regions of Iraq’s south and central areas are anti-America and pro-Iran, and Sunni areas in non-Kurdish dominated parts of Iraq’s north and Iraq’s western Anbar region, feel totally betrayed by a US which executed a secular Sunni President, Saddam Hussein before ‘gifting them’ ISIS in the aftermath.
There is little or nothing the US can do to ebb Iranian influence in Iraq apart from re-installing a government which would pick up where Saddam Hussein left off.
Ironically, in his final decade in power, Saddam Hussein began decreasing Iraq’s secular nature as part of the Faith Campaign which even Saddam’s son Uday, felt strayed too far from orthodox Ba’athism.
The campaign was not only directed at re-modelling Saddam’s personal leadership as a Muslim saviour of the country, but it was also a means of continuing to oppose Iranian influence in the region. This was the Iraq which the US destroyed in 2003, a still secular country but with an increasing Sunni Islamic tendency.
Iraq like Iran has every right to develop nuclear power, but ironically, the fact that Iraq and Iran will likely inevitably cooperate on such matters is only the fault of the United States. If US has gone from one Iran to two effective two Irans. Modern Iraq can be thought of as a kind of aspiring Revolutionary Iran in the heart of the Arab world.
Today and for the foreseeable future, if the United States wants to fight Iran, it will also have to fight Iraq and unlike in 2003, Iraq this time will fight back along with many Hezbollah volunteers. Such is the legacy of America’s twisted relations with Iraq dating back to the 1980s when the US encouraged its then partner Saddam to invade Iran, before executing him during the post-2003 illegal occupation of the country.
When Iran and Iraq successfully complete a nuclear program, the US will wish Saddam had never left.