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Future Scenarios for Iraq and Iran's Strategy

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ali Akbar Asadi
Ph.D. in International Relations & Middle East Analyst

More than a decade has passed since the Iraqi regime was changed as a result of the United States’ invasion of the Arab country, but all efforts made to establish a stable and efficient federal and democratic political system in Iraq have failed. At the present time, Iraq is plagued with a multidimensional crisis whose control and management is beyond the power of the central government. As a result, the country is now in dire need of foreign assistance. One the one side, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its allies have conquered important parts of the Sunni-dominated provinces of Iraq and after announcing the establishment of their Islamic caliphate, are now hell-bent on conquering the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and changing the government of the Arab country. In order to achieve this goal, they have even tried to attract support and cooperation of Sunni people living in Iraq and even some Arab players in the region. On the other hand, the Iraqi Kurds have been taking advantage of political turmoil as well as military failure of the Iraqi government in the face of the ISIS to consolidate their control over some disputed areas. They have also taken this opportunity to seriously and publicly declare their decision to become independent of Iraq. Under these conditions, when the process of forming new government in Iraq has been marked with serious challenges and complexities, various areas of the country are under domination and rule of three different forces. The northern regions of Iraq are controlled by the government of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region while the ISIS dominates large swaths of the country in west and center of Iraq. The central government’s rule, in the meantime, has become limited to southern provinces and some other central regions of the country.

In view of the current massive crisis that is plaguing Iraq and given many ambiguities and doubts that exist about the ability of the Iraqi government and political currents to put an end to this crisis in the short run, important questions can be posed about the future prospect of Iraq and possible scenarios that may play out for the country. When it comes to discussing the future outlook of Iraq, it seems that there are five possible scenarios which may unravel in the future Iraq. The first scenario is the separation of Kurdistan followed by the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq while the rest of the country will survive in its present state. In the second scenario, Iraq is divided into three political entities with an independent Kurdish state in the north, a Shia state in the south and a Sunni country in the center, while according to the third scenario, the federal system will expand to allow for the establishment of federal Sunni and Shia territories in addition to Kurdistan Regional Government within the framework of a unified Iraq. In the fourth scenario the crisis will continue, though it will wax and wane, and the existing Kurdish-Arab and Sunni-Shia challenges will rage on. Finally, according to the fifth scenario, the crisis will come under control of the central government, and the country will move toward further consolidation of the existing federal and democratic political system within which Kurdistan region will be the sole federal region in the country.

The course of domestic developments in Iraq and viewpoints held by various ethnic, religious and political groups in this country determine which one of these scenarios are more possible to take place. Nevertheless, in view of regional and international repercussions of domestic developments of Iraq, the role and impact of policies adopted by effective foreign players in this country cannot be overlooked. As a result, the role and viewpoints of a country like the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is among key players in the political scene of Iraq and which will continue to play its role in future Iraq, can never be taken lightly. During the past decades, especially when Iraq was under the rule of the Baath party, the aggressive policies adopted by Iraq toward Iran inflicted high security, political and economic costs on the Islamic Republic. As a result, since the fall of Saddam, Tehran has been trying to prevent Iraq from reemerging as a major threat to its national security. To achieve this goal, Iran has given priority to a diverse array of policies in Iraq and the importance that Tehran attaches to any one of the aforesaid scenarios is directly related to Iran's priorities with respect to Iraq.

Protecting territorial integrity of Iraq can be considered as Iran's number one priority with regard to its western neighbor. This is true because Iraq’s drift toward disintegration and collapse will not only have various destabilizing effects on the region, but will also pose a serious challenge to national security and stability of Iran. Another priority for the Islamic Republic in Iraq is to fight off insecurity and instability and rein in terrorism in the Arab country. Spread of insecurity and instability in Iraq can pose a threat to Iran's borders and inner regions especially taking into account that Takfiri terrorism, due to its anti-Shia quality, is an existential threat to Iran and other areas in the region where Shias live. To establish and strengthen a federal and democratic political system and encourage real participation of all Iraqi political currents in the country’s power structure is another one of Iran's priorities in Iraq. Although this form of political system is flawed with many serious challenges, there is no alternative formula, which would be able to protect stability and territorial integrity of Iraq. As a result, any kind of reform and change in Iraq should take place within framework of the existing political trend in that country because a total change of the political structure cannot have really positive results. Another important issue for Iran is that Iraq should not turn into a breeding ground where anti-Iran groups would be able to grow and thrive in order to take action against the national interests and security of the Islamic Republic.

In view of the current critical conditions governing Iraq and considering Iran's priorities in this country, the best option for Iran out of the aforesaid scenarios related to future outlook of Iraq is nothing but bringing the crisis under control or reducing its intensity in a bid to help the country to consolidate its federal and democratic political system. The independence of Iraqi Kurdistan Region or division of Iraq into three smaller states would be the end of territorial integrity of this country and are, as such, considered serious red lines by Iran. Meanwhile, further expansion of federalism would create major challenges in Iraq and lead to further weakening of the central government, which in turn, would act as a catalyst to speed up ultimate breakup of the country. On the other hand, continuation of the ongoing crisis will also erode the power of the central government in Iraq and help such extremist and terrorist groups as the ISIS to further grow and pose more threats to Iran. As a result, although the existing federal political system of Iraq is facing serious crisis and is close to failure and although reducing intensity of the crisis followed by restoring relative stability to Iraq has become much of a difficulty, Iran is still trying to take actions at various levels and encourage reforms in the country in order to overcome that difficulty and help Iraq’s crisis become source of new achievements for the Arab country. The success of this option, however, hinges on reorganization of forces in military and security spheres, new interactions and plans in political areas, and taking creative initiatives both at regional and international levels.

Key Words: Iraq, Future Scenarios, Iran's Strategy, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Kurdish State, Shia State, Sunni Country, Territorial Integrity, Asadi

More By Ali Akbar Asadi:

*Interactive Moderation Discourse in Iran's Foreign Policy: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Interactive-Moderation-Discourse-in-Iran-s-Foreign-Policy.htm

*Baghdad and Erbil: Necessity of Interaction and Cooperation under New Conditions: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Baghdad-and-Erbil-Necessity-of-Interaction-and-Cooperation-under-New-Conditions.htm

*Amending De-Baathification Law and New Concerns in Iraq: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Amending-De-Baathification-Law-and-New-Concerns-in-Iraq.htm

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