Iranian influence in Iraq and Lebanon begins to crumble

Tehran has enjoyed great influence in the Iraqi and Lebanese arenas for decades, where it has managed to form a number of Shiite militias and provide military assistance. Iran has also long used its media arms to stimulate public opinion in both Iraq and Lebanon to strengthen its influence and achieve its own interests and the goals of Iranian foreign policy.

However, a set of weaknesses have emerged recently that have affected this influence – most importantly the ongoing protests in both Lebanon and Iraq against Iran’s presence. At the same time, Tehran is suffering from major gaps at home, which prevents it from addressing this foreign deficiency, following the US exit from the Iranian nuclear deal in May 2018.

Iran has a number of tools through which to expand its influence anywhere, which it attempts to do in a large number of Arab capitals, particularly in Beirut and Baghdad.

Economic penetration

Iraq is one of the most open markets for Iranian products. Since 2003, Tehran has sought to flood markets with relatively cheap Iranian goods and has worked to inaugurate a large number of economic institutions that have contributed to strengthening Iran’s economic expansion within Iraq. It also uses these institutions as a cover for money-laundering operations and suspicious activities used to finance Shiite militias in Iraq. This comes alongside Iran’s interference in various economic and industrial sectors in Iraq, including investment, religious tourism, commercial sectors, and facilitating the granting of visas to Iranian merchants and investors. Tehran has also been able to expand its economic relations to include the Kurdistan region and to push transnational trade there. Dozens of contracts have been concluded with Iranian companies, especially with regard to construction and communications in the Kurdistan region.

The situation in Iraq is similar to that in Lebanon, where the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group wields major power and controls the majority of Lebanese banks. After 2011, a set of arrangements took place regarding strengthening economic relations between Iran and Lebanon, especially in some important areas such as oil, gas and petrochemicals, and the volume of trade exchange between Tehran and Beirut reached about $10 billion.

Shiite militias

Iran has a large number of Shiite militias in the region, especially in its largest strongholds of influence in the Middle East, as represented in Iraq and Lebanon. Shiite militias were formed in Iraq as a result of poverty, the Baath Party’s brutality in the 1990s, and the chaos and violence after the 2003 war in Iraq. Shiite political activists turned into militias, and contrary to the global intellectual and reformist Shiite activists’ view that formed the basis of the Islamic Dawa Party in the 1950s, Iraqi Shiites were violent and focused their goals on political and social justice, sectarian grievances, and alleviating poverty. Therefore, Tehran used these Shiite groups in Iraq to serve as a platform to serve its regional interests and to wage conflicts such as those in Syria. Iran aimed to make Iraq a basic pillar of its regional security framework. It has indeed succeeded in that, with its most important militia in Iraq being the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

As for Lebanon, the Shiite Hezbollah group is considered one of Tehran’s most prominent proxies there and in the region in general. Hezbollah was established with Iranian support in the early 1980s and was at the forefront of events during the occupation of southern Lebanon in 1982. Its intellectual roots go back to what is known as the “Shiite Islamist awakening” in Lebanon in the 1960s and 1970s, which witnessed the emergence of Shiite scholarly activity and religious clerics in southern Lebanon, such as the cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. Hezbollah had also declared its commitment to the theory of Wilayat-e Faqih as embodied by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after the victory of the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

Media arms

Tehran plays a major role in Arab capitals, especially Beirut and Baghdad, through the soft power of media. Iran has dozens and perhaps hundreds of TV channels, websites, radio stations, and Iranian-funded fictitious study centers. It also has cyber armies chasing activists who criticize Iranian policies publicly. Indeed, Iran’s media tool in Iraq has proven to influence public opinion, forming a group of supporters at the popular and official levels.

Weaknesses

However, Iran suffers from many weaknesses regarding its influence, especially after the United States exited from the nuclear agreement in May 2018 and reimposed economic sanctions on Tehran.

Source » theportal-center

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