Effects of Foreign Interference in Iraq, Iranian Interests in Iraq and Nujaba Group’s Activities in the Middle East

Mindset of Iraq

The Iraqi government is intent on curtailing the activities of the Iranian backed militant group Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba despite the group contributing significantly to the country’s victory over the Islamic State. This paper will explore the previous effects of foreign interference in Iraq, Iranian interests in Iraq and the Nujaba group’s activities in the Middle East in an attempt to provide a rationale for this policy decision.

Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba’s activities in the Middle East

While it is essential to involve militant groups in efforts towards reconstruction, groups that openly defy Iraqi foreign policy and continuously undertake actions that undermine peace and reconciliation should not be included in this agenda (Dehghanpisheh, 2017). Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba was one of many autonomous armed groups that contributed to Iraq’s eventual victory over the Islamic State. After the victory, these armed militants have been reconstituted into an umbrella consisting of over fifty units called Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) (Dehghanpisheh, 2017). The feeble Iraqi government regularly relies on these paramilitary groups as security apparatus and even complete delayed public works projects. The Iraqi government is involved in conscious efforts to integrate members of these groups into the nation’s security forces and redefine their role within the Iraqi government.

The Nujaba group’s loyalties lie mainly with Iran. Despite having Iranian backing, some groups have shifted priorities from militant activities and formed political organizations to take part in Iraqi politics and policymaking. On the other hand, the Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba group has remained mostly militant. The group has teamed up with Iranian forces to undermine peace security and stability across the Middle East (Arif, 2019). Nujaba forces are seldom involved in nation-building activities preferring to act as Iranian proxies in Syria, Israel and the broader Middle East. The group is intent on defying Iraqi policy in the Middle East. The Iraqi government’s position on the Syrian war has changed. It recognizes the drawbacks of supplying the Assad government and is intent in preventing spilling over of Syrian conflict into Iraq. Conversely, Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba forces are intent on creating a route through Iraq to Damascus to supply the Syrian conflict (Arif, 2019). Furthermore, the group is already seeking to move beyond conflict in Syria and Iraq to pursue Iranian interests in Israel (Arif, 2019).

Resisting the deleterious effects of foreign interference

The Iraqi government has maintained a desire to extricate itself from international entanglements, including the US-Iran conflict. US involvement in Iraq was motivated by a desire to subjugate the threat of weapons of mass destruction and an Iraqi government-sponsored terrorist invasion. US negotiators, therefore, arrived in Iraq with militant objectives formulated from false information. After arrival, the United States failed to develop a broad understanding of the issues and interests of all national players in the country. Although the reconstruction of the Iraqi economy was pertinent to continued stability in the Middle East, it occupied a lowly position in the American agenda (Anonymous, n.d).

According to the USIP special report on US negotiating behavior (2002), the United States typically ignores the potential ripples that occur when it pursues its own divergent interests in global issues. Thus, the US invasion did not bring the anticipated political stability nor restore stability in Iraq (Mausner et al., 2012). The United States strategic plan for rebuilding democracy in Iraq favored the Shi’ite class over other ethnic classes. Massive discontent effectively plunged Iraq into years of civil war while the US failed to come up with a solid plan to restore democracy or foster economic development (Mausner et al., 2012).

On the other hand, despite Iran deploying immediate military aid to Iraq during the ISIS invasion, the Iranian government has persistently exercised a controlling influence over Iraqi politics (Mausner et al., 2012).  

Furthermore, Iran’s theocratic ideology has fostered sectorial conflicts in Iran even before the fall of the Islamic state. Iran’s proposed route to Damascus has already brought about significant unrest among non-Shi’ite groups in Iraq and is expected to spill over Syrian conflict into Iraq (Mausner et al., 2012). The Iraqi government’s efforts are centered on fostering national reconciliation and rebuilding Iraq into a prosperous and stable state. United States’ and Iranian interference has always exacerbated existing ethnic conflicts and undermined national cohesion. It is therefore understandable why the Iraq government is intent on curtailing the influence of Iranian backed militants to protect itself from international domination.

Curtailing Iranian interests

The Iraqi people are frustrated at Iran’s unceasing efforts to interfere in Iraq through its long-standing ties to the Sadrists, the largest party in Iraq’s coalition government (Arif, 2019). Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba was formed to support the Assad regime in Syria and defend Iraq against ISIS. However, Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba leaders have pledged allegiance with Ayatollah Khamenei, openly declaring that they would act on any command from the Iranian supreme leader including overthrowing the Iraqi government if he considered it their divine duty (Dehghanpisheh, 2017). Furthermore, Nujaba forces express a desire to reciprocate Iranian intervention at the height of the ISIS invasion. Nujaba forces will, therefore, be especially useful in promotion Iranian interests in Iraq.

An understanding that Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba militant forces share similar interests with Iran is, therefore, a crucial factor in Iraq’s efforts to prevent the proliferation of Nujaba forces. The Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba group is part of Iran’s strategy of expanding its Shi’ite influence across Iraq and the wider Arab region. The victory against ISIS opened up a new Shi’ite dominated political system in Iraq, which bolstered friendly relations between the two nations and increased Iran’s political influence in Iraq. The Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba is mainly composed of Shi’ite militant intent on propagating Iran’s theocratic system of governance in Iraq.

The Iranian government does not wish to promote prosperity and stability in Iran. Instead, it seeks to prevent possible disintegration but impede Iraq from growing strong enough to pose a military threat (Arif, 2019). These intentions can only be achieved by maintaining a robust underhanded hold on Iraq politics. Iran has exercised control over Iraq by diverting natural rivers flowing into Iraq to challenge its agricultural sector (Dehghanpisheh, 2017). Thus, Iran has actively provided patronage to political and military factions in Iraq to impede US interests for reconstruction and create a stable malleable ally from Iraq.

Furthermore, Iran has provided ammunition, training and salaries to extremist Shi’ite groups. In Iraq, Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba forces fight under the umbrella of popular Mobilization Forces, which constitutes thousands of Shi’ite militiamen trained and supplied by the Iranian government (Dehghanpisheh, 2017).  These forces actively advance Iranian interests of minimizing US influence and solidifying its economic, political, religious and military interests in Iraq.

Iraq is also critical to Iranian interests in Syria. Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba militants are reportedly in the process of assisting the Iranian government secure a supply route through Iraq to Russia. Iran is keen on stabilizing the Assad regime to avoid loss of its only political ally in the Arab world (Dehghanpisheh, 2017). The proposed supply route to Damascus is intended to offset the cost of air transport in Iran’s expanded plans to supply the conflict in Syria.

Culture matters

According to Lebaron (2000), not all cultures are motivated by the same sets of needs and desires despite their apparent similarities. Although it would seem logical for the Shi’ite ruling class to support Iranian interests in Iraq, such support has not been forthcoming. Iraq’s desire to prevent the spread of Iranian backed Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba activities is a testament of this lack of support. Before the invasion by ISIS Iraq was mainly ruled by the Sunni minority despite having a Shi’ite majority population. 

After the defeat of ISIS, a dramatic transformation of the political system occurred. Iraqi Shi’ite and Kurdish were given power while minority Sunni were displaced from the government. The transformation of Iraq into a Shi’ite ruled state effectively augmented existing hostility between Iraq and Iran. There was a general assumption that their interests were now aligned. However, most of Shi’ite Iraqis are quietists and do support the idea of a religious revolution in the Arab world. Iraqi Surdists and Kurdists do not support Iranian influence in Iraq. Furthermore, most Surdists and Shi’ite in Iraq see themselves as having a different identity from Iranian Persians.

Conclusion

Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba activities were initially in alignment with Iraqi interests in Syria and contributed significantly to the country’s victory over ISIS. However, the group’s has consistently demonstrated a preference for fostering Iranian interests in the Middle East. Curtailing the group’s activities in Iraq reflects a desire to maintain cultural autonomy from Iraq and limit foreign interference.

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