Iranian meddling in Iraq pushes it closer to a Shiite civil war

Moqtada al-Sadr of Iraq was able to show the depth of his authority in a matter of 24 hours when the streets of Baghdad bowed to and then subsided from saw massive violence, both at his command. Sadr’s supporters turned the capital into a war zone on August 29 which could lead to civil war until he declared a halt to hostilities the next morning.

The events that preceded the unrest made clear the geopolitical conflict between Iran and Iraq’s attempts to establish a government in Baghdad. This violence was directly brought on by Iranian involvement in the nation, in contrast to the grassroots demonstrations of 2019, which were sparked by discontent over governmental corruption.

The unexpected announcement by the Iraqi Shiite spiritual leader Ayatollah Kadhim al-Haeri that he was resigning from his position and urging his followers to support Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in its place set off a chain of events that culminated with portions of Baghdad being a war zone, almost turning into an all-out civil war.

After Moqtada’s father, Ayatollah Mohammed al-Sadr, was killed in 1999, his supporters broke their political and religious allegiances and turned to Haeri, who had the support of the older Sadr, for spiritual direction. Haeri’s unclear retirement and support of Khamenei as his successor raises the possibility that Iran’s political influence was at play.

Tehran’s attempt to influence Sadr’s supporters, however, was poorly planned. Following Haeri’s unexpected departure, Sadr announced his withdrawal from politics, prompting his heavily armed supporters to pour onto Baghdad’s streets.

Since the country’s political impasse was caused by Iraq’s elections in October 2021, this conflict with Iran has continued. Sadr’s party won the largest bloc in the cabinet, outnumbering the alliance of militias supported by Iran, and dealt a severe blow to Tehran with 73 of 329 seats.

Although Tehran may not have explicitly requested the violence on Baghdad’s streets, its ongoing attempts to sway the nation are having a negative impact on both Iran and Iraq and are raising tensions in the region.

With a Shiite population that is sharply split, Iraq has descended once more into even greater unrest, nearing an all-out civil war. The only possibility is that Iran would finally distance itself from Iraqi affairs and allow the country to try to shape its own future.

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