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Thanks to Trump's assassination of Soleimani, Iran now has the hearts and minds of everyday Iraqis

The Iraqi government was divided, and protesters were chanting 'Iran out'. Then a US airstrike killed General Soleimani — and everything changed

Ahmed Twaij
New York
Monday 06 January 2020 21:03 GMT
General Qassem Soleimani's casket passes in Iraq funeral procession

Since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, repeated US mistakes in the region have paved the way for increased Iranian influence. True to form, the wholly unexpected assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasim Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Mohandis may appear to be a tactical accomplishment for the US, but actually has provided Iran with another strategic victory.

In recent months, Iraqis have made significant strides, through nationwide protests, in countering foreign influence in the country, as well as governmental corruption. For many, the protests were aimed at weakening Iran’s grip on the nation: “Iran out” was a familiar refrain heard in the streets of Iraq at the time. But last week’s US aggressions — which included airstrikes killing 25 Iran-backed militia fighters, as well as the assassinations of Soleimani and Mohandis — have shifted the focus of resentment, for many Iraqis, away from Iran and towards the US.

Since October last year, the protests have largely paralyzed the Iraqi parliament, who could offer no concrete solutions. But after the Trump administration’s assassinations, Iraq’s deeply divided, bureaucratic and infamously slow government was able to immediately mobilize and unite in an attempt to weaken US presence in the country. On Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi, allegedly under pressure from Iran, ordered parliament to convene to discuss the presence of US troops in Iraq. By Sunday, in a blow to US influence on Baghdad, the Iraqi parliament voted to expel all American military from the country. US Tellingly, President Donald Trump tried and failed to prevent the vote from taking place.

Despite Trump’s best efforts (and threats of sanctions), it seems the Iraqi government is dedicated to enact the resolution. Undeterred by the haunting history of previous UN sanctions crippling Iraq and killing over 550,000 Iraqi children, Abdul Mahdi today met with US Ambassador to Iraq, Matthew Tueller, to notify him of the intent to implement American troop dismissal.

Unlike the military, American diplomats have, of their own accord, withdrawn from Iraq. Although both the US and Iranian consulates were attacked in Basra following anti-government protests in 2018, the US consulate has remained closed, whereas Iran opened a new consulate in the city soon afterwards. The US embassy in Baghdad — which was running on only essential staff — was forced to evacuate more after being stormed by pro-militia protestors after the recent US airstrikes. Similarly, on Saturday, some British embassy diplomats departed. Both the US State Department and British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised their respective citizens to immediately leave Iraq, effectively handing victory to Iran.

Iraqis who had legitimate grievances against Iranian transgressions have found themselves silenced in the wake of the US assassination of Iran’s top military general. Street protests were replaced with funeral processions as Iraqis flooded the streets, resonating chants of, “Death to America”. Iraq's most senior politicians, including the current prime minister, joined the procession for Soleimani and Mohandis, indicating high-level solidarity with Iran.

Soleimani, although a polarizing figure in Iraq, has once again made the US the enemy for Iraq’s most powerful militias. Moqtada Sadr, who for years was the face of insurgency in Iraq and promoted violent clashes with US troops, had up until recently been considered a force of “calm” in Iraq. As a response to the US violation of Iraq’s sovereignty, Sadr has re-activated his Mahdi Army militia, calling for a resistance force that will ensure expulsion of US troops. Iran-backed militias in Iraq have in recent years been bitter rivals for power in the country. In a rare show of unity, these militias have also managed to unite under a common enemy.

The latest assassinations mark the fifth consecutive decade of US airstrikes in Iraq — this has been going on under every American president since George Bush Sr. It is understandable why many Iraqis have become resentful towards the US. The latest airstrikes have reaffirmed their distrust. A move that was clearly intended to weaken Iran may well have achieved the opposite.

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