Iraq: Iraq the Threatened Neighbor


November 16, 2023: Iran continues to be the main threat for neighboring Iraq. There are many reasons for this, some of them quite ancient. For example, Iranians are largely members of the Shia branch of Islam. Only about ten percent of Moslems are Shia. Iranians are also ethnically different then their many Arab neighbors. The Iranians, or Persians, are Indo-Europeans who migrated from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf area thousands of years ago and have been dominating or fighting the indigenous Semites (mainly Arabs) ever since. Being Shia gives the Iranians one more reason to fight their Arab neighbors. The Kurds are a smaller Indo-European group that arrived in the region and did not lose their ethnic and linguistic characteristics. When Islam showed up, most Kurds pretended to convert and that is something else that rankles their Arab neighbors. While the Iranians are a persistent threat to Arabs, the Kurds are more of a curiosity or, at worst, an annoyance.

An example of this is the efforts by Iran to gain control of Iraq, which has a large Shia Arab majority. Iran is losing influence inside Iraq. This is mainly because Iran is ruled by a Shia religious dictatorship that condones aggressive interference in neighboring countries. Iraq has long been the main recipient of this meddling. Iran seeks more economic and political influence in Iraq. This is made easier by Iraq’s internal problems, which are largely the result of rampant and persistent corruption. Historically, what is now known as Iraq was seen as the most corrupt region in the Middle East, if not the world.

According to international surveys of corruption, Iraq is no longer the most corrupt country in the world. For the last 30 years Transparency International has monitored corruption worldwide and reported their findings annually. The corruption is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The nations with the worst score are currently Syria (score of 14), South Sudan (12) and Somalia (12). The least corrupt nations are currently Denmark and New Zealand, each with a score of 88. Iraq does better than you would expect with a corruption score of 23 in 2022, up from 21 in 2020, 20 in 2019, 17 in 2017-18 and 16 in 2013.

Iraq’s reduction in corruption played a part in convincing a growing number of formerly pro-Iran Iraqis to change their minds about backing Iran. The current Iranian government has been an economic, diplomatic and military disaster for everyone in the area, not just Iranians. Few Iraqis want to emulate Iran, and this now includes Iraqi members of pro-Iran militias. Initially Iran encouraged and maintained pro-Iran attitudes in Iraq by supplying Iraqi militiamen with weapons and regular cash payments. Growing economic problems inside Iran reduced the money available to pay the Iraqi militiamen enough to keep them loyal to Iran. The longer the Iraqi militiamen went unpaid, the less willing they were to serve Iranian interests. How much is left is questionable, but certainly enough that some militias are currently attacking American troops and bases at Iranian orders.

Iraqis were also put off by the brutality Iran used to suppress the “hijab protests'' that began over a year ago and only began to diminish earlier this year because so many women were simply not wearing hijabs to cover their hair. There were too many of these women for the Iranian government to arrest or otherwise punish. The Iranian government has not given up on enforcing the use of hijabs and is seeking ways to force women to comply. A proposed new law would criminalize failure of women to wear hijabs, but the government is unsure what impact trying to enforce such a law would have. Most women and many men oppose the hijab restrictions and consider these laws another reason to overthrow the religious dictatorship that has misruled Iran for decades.

Iraqis see this Iranian obsession over the hijab as odd and scary because this is the sort of thing Iran would try to impose on Iraqis if it could. Iraq and Iran were long known as much less fanatic about this sort of thing than, say, the Saudis. That is changing in Saudi Arabia, as it already has in Iraq and, until recently, Iran.




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