The Iranian regime is losing its regional mystique
Since the establishment of the religious regime in Iran in 1979, Iran's relations with Middle Eastern countries have gone through many ups and downs. Tehran developed a two-pronged survival strategy: suppressing dissent inside its borders and exporting terrorism outside its borders. It had a particularly fraught relationship with Iraq, which invaded Iran in 1980. After eight bloody years, Iraq withdrew with as many as one million Iranians dead and almost $627 billion in economic losses.
Since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Tehran and its Iraqi allies (who, ironically enough, were previously trained in Iran), have made every effort to use terrorism as leverage to gain political power in Iraq by taking over parliament, as well as the prime minister’s and president’s positions. As well as the offices, they took control of all the economic institutions to prioritize the trade balance in favor of Iran, turning Iraq into Iran's backyard.
Next, the IRGC established a shadow military government against the Iraqi government by establishing weapons and missile depots and smuggling narcotics with the help of its proxy forces. Of the six prime ministers appointed in post-occupation Iraq, all followed Tehran's orders. Qassem Soleimani attended government meetings and dictated Khamenei's orders to them.
Since Trump became president, though, things have changed. Although the Iranian regime is still pursuing the above-described policies, it was badly shaken after the 2017/2018 and November 2019 uprisings in Iran and Qassem Soleimani’s assassination in January 2020.
Additionally, beginning in October 2019, alongside the uprisings inside Iran, Iraqi youth have been holding nationwide demonstrations daily in the streets of Iraqi cities, especially oil-rich cities in the south, chanting slogans against the Iranian regime's proxy forces (“Iran expelled, expelled, Baghdad free, free.”) The Iraqi protesters tore up pictures of Soleimani and Khamenei and set fire to the regime's consulate in Karbala several times. Iraqi citizens openly curse the Iranian regime in the media.
In sum, the same Iranian regime that once inspired fear and awe across the Middle east. Is shaken. Both inside and outside of Iran, people are beginning to treat the regime as if it can be destroyed.
The regime is beginning to acknowledge the people’s concerns. At the end of May the Committee to Investigate the Killing of Protesters in Iraq revealed new details about how protesters were killed during the 2019 “October Revolution” protests. The Committee interrogated 22 high-ranking security officers, including majors and colonels. “The committee will announce the names of the killers soon,” the committee spokesman, Mohammad al-Janabi, said in a statement.
At much the same time, Iraqi security forces arrested a senior militia commander in Al-Anbar province, Qasim Musleh al-Khafaji, the commander of Hashd Al-Shaabi militia, in accordance with Iraqi counterterrorism laws. Musleh was arrested for his role in the assassination of civil activist Ihab Al-Wazni in the city of Karbala, as well as for attacking the US base of Ain al-Assad. Ihab Al-Wazni was the coordinator of the Karbala protests and running for office. Although Iranian pressure saw Musleh released soon after, the mere fact of his arrest was telling.
Following Musleh’s arrest, several Hashd Al-Shaabi militias affiliated with the Iranian regime entered the Green Zone of Baghdad with a large number of vehicles and weapons to protest his detention. Iraqi forces used tanks to push back the Hashd Al-Shaabi militias. Iraqi security forces say they have put an end to the threatening move and taken control of the situation, restoring a fragile calm.
In other news, two sources say the Pentagon is seeking Biden approval to attack Tehran-backed militants in Iraq. “‘The administration is looking hard at a broad range of responses to Shiite militia aggression against Americans in Iraq,’ one source with knowledge of the situation told the Daily Caller.” Meanwhile, one of Ayatollah Sistani’s top aides, Sheikh Abal-Mahdi al-Karbalai, rejected the Hashd Al-Shaabi’s request for mediation for Musleh’s release. As a result, this arrest promises a significant change in the Iraqi government's relations with Hashd Al-Shaabi.
Prominent Shiite commanders affiliated with the Iranian regime are now talking about the state of confusion and unprecedented interference in positions, which has occurred for the first time between the leaders and commanders of the armed factions over Musleh’s arrest. They said: “A military parade in the Green Zone may lead to the disintegration of the Hashd Al-Shaabi.”
So what does all of this mean? It means that, despite Biden’s efforts to prop up the mullahs using American tax dollars (and illegally buying Iranian oil), people in the regime are beginning to realize that the regime is weakening. This is the time to tear it down, not built it up.
*Hassan Mahmoudi is a social analyst, researcher, independent observer, and commentator of Middle Eastern and Iranian Politics. He tweets under @hassan_mahmou1.
IMAGE: Qasim Musleh. YouTube screengrab.
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