If it is true that the countries of the Arab revolutions are on an inward search, each one elevating its respective national cause to a position of utmost priority, then it is also true that Iraq today is the Arab country that has deviated most from this rule.
What used to be a hint of Iranian interests superseding Iraqi interests with the actions of Nuri al-Maliki’s government, has now become an obvious reality with the recent Russian arms deal (worth US$ 4 billion). The deal was concluded by the prime minister, following a visit that lasted a whole month (!) made by acting Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi to Moscow, at the head of a large delegation.
It is difficult to defend this new overture to Russia on the basis of Iraqi interests. For one thing, the fact that both countries are oil-producers as well as the fact that Russian industry is outdated in both the IT and consumer-goods sectors, makes it difficult to see how Iraq and its people would stand to benefit from what had happened. Concerning arms and weapons systems, the deal may force Iraq to undertake a costly overhaul of its military equipment that it has been using since 2003, when the United States became the primary supplier of Iraqi armaments. This is not to mention that, as is common knowledge, Russian weapons are generally subpar compared to their Western counterparts.
Meanwhile, the relationship with Putin’s Russia, which likes to paint itself as an heir to the Soviet Union and its ‘glories’, summons dark specters from a dismal bygone past: Those of the concomitance between military dictatorships in the Arab world and military ties with Moscow. And if we believe that the existing regime in Iraq is democratic and pluralistic, then doubting the difficulty of reconciling these two contradictions becomes indeed valid.
After Saddam, Iraq underwent a difficult stage of the U.S.-Iranian conflict. Today, after the U.S. troops completed their withdrawal, it seems that the previous stage has cleared the way for another, where the dominant feature is complete alignment with Tehran.
In this context, we can only see the latest arms deal as part of this alignment with the Iranian axis, whether this is in order for Baghdad to replace the crumbling regime in Damascus in this axis, or whether it is in preparation to cope with a post-Assad regime in Syria.
Here too, it is difficult to identify what Iraqi interest this serves, for at least three reasons:
First, the current situation in Iran, particularly the economic situation, is not tempting enough to justify an alliance between Iraq and Tehran, let alone to become subservient to it.
Second, Tehran and Moscow are at the vanguard of the efforts to defend and protect the Syrian regime, and consequently to kill Syrians. This means that Iraq’s new attitude has antagonized the Syrian people with whom Iraq shares a long and intertwined border.
Third, and most importantly, becoming subservient to Iran has a direct domestic impact on Iraq and on what is left of its national cohesion and social fabric. It is no secret that at least one third of Iraqis believe that the Iranian role in their country is conducive to sectarianism, of which they accuse their government of engaging in and bowing down to. This in fact explains the ongoing deterioration in security, which cannot be addressed by random bellicose executions.
Consequently, it becomes clear that appeasing Moscow and Tehran is the antithesis of appeasing Mosul and Fallujah, and subsequently, of finding an equitable and sensible political solution. The conclusion is that Iraq is progressing towards a situation where its external exploits reflect the fragmentation of an interior of which nothing much is now left.
The writer is a columnist at the London-based al-Hayat, where this article was published on Oct. 16, 2012