Ayatollah Khamenei, the Iranian leader, met with IRGC generals– 30 Jun 18. (IRNA)

By Track Persia

November 25, 2019

Since the end of the Iraq-Iran War in 1988, the Iranian regime has drawn a new security and military strategy to meet its aspirations and goals relying on a wide network of logistics and regional proxies.

US invasion of Iraq  

With the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq that deposed President Saddam Hussein, Iran effectively won the war with Iraq in the 1980s that it had failed to win during the eight years. For the first time since forming Hezbollah in Lebanon, Tehran managed to form Iran-based Iraqi militias, providing them with weapons, training and logistics. The dismantling of the Iraqi state by the invasion led to political and security instability which the invading coalition did not have a strategy to prevent. Alt the same time, the invasion encouraged Iran to control of an Arab state for the first time since its involvement in Lebanon in the 1980s.

Leaked Iranian intelligence published on Monday 18 by online news publication The Intercept and shared with the US daily The New York Times revealed how Iran enhanced its influence over Iraq following the US-led invasion, in particular in recent years. The leaked documents which are secret Iranian intelligence mainly written at the height of the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in 2014-2015 reveal heavy Iranian interference in Iraq.

The New York Times and The Intercept stated that they had verified about 700 pages of reports handed to them by an anonymous source who had said that they wanted to show the world what the bad role Iran has had in their country Iraq after the invasion.

The Iranian intelligence cables show Iran recruited abandoned CIA informants after the US troops’ withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. Iranian intelligence also benefited from strong ties with top Shiite Iraqi officials such current Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, former Prime Mister Haider al-Abad, former PM Nuri al-Maliki and Baqir Jabr al-Zubeidi, also known as Bayan Jabr Solagh, who served as Interior Minister and Finance Minster among many high posts in the successive post-invasion government, according to the report.

The leaked intelligence documents come as there have been growing anti-Iran sentiments in Iraq reflected by protesters’ attacks against Iranian interests in Iraq and offices belong to Iran’s proxies in Iraq.  On November 4, a number of protestors in Karbala voiced dismay over Iran’s influence in their country by attacking Iran’s consulate there. The attack led to the killing of three protesters by Iraqi security forces. Baghdad and nine southern provinces in Iraq have been witnessing anti-government mass protests since October 1. More than 400 protesters have been killed and over 17000 are believed to have been wounded by tear gas and projectiles of which significant portion was manufactured by Iran’s Defense Industries Organisation (DIO), according to Amnesty International.

Tehran’s unconstrained channel to Syria

The Iranian regime was threatened by the potential collapse of the Syrian regime of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Asad in 2011 with the widespread uprisings, especially given this regime is pivotal to sustain Tehran’s Shiite ally Hezbollah in Lebanon. This could not have been achieved without unconstrained logistics channel Tehran built in the form of the air bridge through Iraq with unlimited cooperation from the Iraqi Shiite-led government of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Iran exploited the fact the world powers turned blind eye to its nefarious involvement in Syria during the negotiations on Iran nuclear deal. To maintain an open channel to Syria through Iraq, Iran also built the army base along the Iraq-Syria border Imam Ali base which has been recently partially destroyed during suspected Israeli airstrikes, according to satellite images taken last week. However, these strikes have not stopped Tehran from resuming reconstructing the base.

Controlling the southern Red Sea through Yemen   

Despite Yemen is not Iran’s priority for extending its influence, especially given the constrained logistics channel to this country, Iranian leaders have maintained strong relations with the Shiite Houthi leadership since the success of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution led by the Islamic Republic founder and late Supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

However, for the first time since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has found the fall of the Yemeni city of Sanaa to the Shiite Houthi rebels in September 2014 a great opportunity to harm Saudi Arabia and its allies. Iran seems to have considered involvement in Yemen exploiting the absence of Western reaction to extend its influence into the southern Red Sea.  Consequently, the Iranian regime has provided the Houthis with funds and advanced weapons technology such as ballistic missiles and remote-controlled boats to attack Saudi Arabia and its population.

Tehran’s propaganda to strife opposition 

To weaken domestic opposition to its regional adventurism, Tehran uses state-control media and aggressive security forces to silence and stifle any criticism and to justify its involvement in the region. For example, in Syria Tehran claims that its involvement is to protect Syria’s Shiite community and Shiite religious symbols from the Sunni extremism of Islamic State (IS).

However, the US sanctions against Iran under the US President Donald Trump administration following the US withdrawal from the controversial nuclear deal in 2018 has crippled Iran’s economy. These sanctions are reflected in the crash of Iran’s currency leaving Iranian people in dire conditions. Frustrated with the regime’s spending on regional adventurism and following the latest spike in fuel prices, Iranian civilians have protested in many cities and dozens of protesters have been killed and detained by the regime oppressive security forces, according to non-state reports.

Tehran’s sectarian policy

Despite gaining influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen by using transnational Shiite military and political proxies over the past decade, Tehran seems to have lost support among the populations of the Arab world.

In an effort to achieve regional hegemony, Iran has brutally suppressed the Sunni Arab populations. Tehran has supported sectarian Shiite regime such as the Asad regime which is accused of committing atrocities against Sunni Arab Syrians. While in Iraq, Iran has practised sectarian policy against Sunni Arabs, marginalising and eliminating those who reject its policy in their country.

Iran has been rocked by Iraq’s protests which initially demanded more jobs and better services and now calling for a complete overhaul of the Iraqi corrupt political system supported by Tehran. The Iraqi protesters have voiced dismay with Tehran’s influence in their country. On November 4, a number of protesters attacked Iran’s consulate in the Shiite holy city of Karbala. The attack led to the killing of three protesters at the hands of security forces and militias allied with Iran.  More than 500 Iraqi protesters are believed to have been killed and around 17000 wounded by tear gas and projectiles believed to be manufactured by Iran, according to Amnesty International.

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.