The 2021 Iraqi parliamentary elections turned out to be unfavourable to Iran as most of its allies suffered major losses. Iran’s arms have protested against the results in recent weeks and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was targeted in a drone attack amid rising tensions in the country. Iraqi security officials confirmed that the drones used in the attack were of Iranian origin. The domestic and regional developments ever since the elections indicate that Iran is now concerned about upholding its influence in Iraq, especially as the Iraqi people are against its interventions in Iraq.
The Sadrist bloc managed to win 73 seats and the Sunni Taqaddum bloc secured 38 seats whereas the Shiite State of Law Coalition and Fatah Alliance only secured 34 and 17 seats respectively. In the aftermath of the election results, pro-Iran leaders in Iraq called the results “fabricated” and warned that there would be violence if there was no recount of the votes. Iran’s arms in the region are facing several challenges and with the recent setback in Iraq, Tehran is concerned about anti-Iranian sentiment shifting from the street to the Iraqi political sphere. Furthermore, pro-Iranian elements are disgruntled about Muqtada al-Sadr’s decision to exclude the Fatah Alliance from partaking in the formation of the next Iraqi government which will likely adopt an anti-Iranian stance. To contain the blowback from the drone attack, Iran’s Quds Force Commander Esmail Qaani met with Kadhimi and expressed his complete support for calm and restraint in the country. An official with knowledge of the meeting reportedly said that Qaani “did not try to shift the blame for the assassination attempt, which proved that the Shiite militias are responsible for orchestrating the attack.” Qaani’s prompt visit reflects the Iranian leadership’s concerns about likely reprisals undertaken by the next Iraqi government which could undermine further the role and influence of pro-Iranian arms in Iraq. The violence unleashed by Tehran’s arms in the country over the years has caused widespread disillusionment among the Iraqi people. Consequently, the majority of Iraqis protested against Iran’s interventions in Iraqi affairs, as illustrated by the “October Revolution” in 2019 which included anti-Iranian slogans.
Considering the Sadrist bloc’s number of seats, it along with Sunni and Kurdish blocs can form the next Iraqi government and set the country’s political course for the coming years. Muqtada al-Sadr favors a foreign policy based on promoting economic development and increasing trade exchange. He has expressed interest in Iraq forging closer ties with Russia and China and prioritizes strengthening relations with Saudi Arabia. However, in light of the present geopolitical landscape in the region, Iran might react by activating its arms to cause havoc and destabilize the country at this sensitive time.
Expressing his anti-Iranian positions, Sadr said in a live speech on state television, “We welcome all embassies that do not interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs,” hinting at Iran’s destabilizing interventions via its embassy and consulates in the country over the years and called for pro-Iranian arms to be reined in and for weapons to be limited to the state. Several Iraqi politicians and leaders have supported his call to disarm pro-Iranian arms and end their monopolization over weapons and the proliferation of arms in the Iraqi black market. Sadr’s position and his call directly threaten Iranian interests as Tehran has depended on its arms to pressure and intimidate its opponents in Iraq and unleash violence if needed to ensure its schemes are enacted.
With a likely downturn in Tehran’s influence, its arms are likely to hold protests and threaten the internal security of Iraq. To salvage its influence, Iran is likely to exert further pressure on Iraq by slashing energy and electricity supplies to the country. Iran is keen to ensure that no intra-Shiite conflict breaks out, especially as there are rumours of rifts among its arms in Iraq. The rift between Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq led by Qais Khazali and Kata’ib Hezbollah was apparent when the former broke the ceasefire between the latter and the United States on several occasions last year. Iranian arms in the last couple of years have also been acting independently; carrying out attacks against Iraqi and US forces and in light of the election results, some arms are clashing with others and acting more independently and aggressively, further highlighting the growing rifts between them.
Iranian arms, whether military or political, will likely repeat Tehran’s strategy of escalating tensions to pressurize the new Iraqi government to undermine it and make it appear incompetent in the face of growing domestic crises.