In October 2022, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani was appointed to head the Iraqi government after the country's longest political crisis since the US invasion. Al-Sudani ascended to his new position at the height of the political stalemate, and during a crisis economic situation in the country, but he was able to gain a foothold within the circles of power in a country looking for internal stability, taking advantage of the calm in the external arena, which witnessed a remarkable breakthrough in Saudi-Iranian relations after years of estrangement, and ironically, Iraq itself played an important role in the political efforts that paved the way for the signing of the "Beijing Agreement" (1), which restored relations between Riyadh and Tehran with Chinese mediation.

After nearly two decades during which Tehran took control of Iraqi politics in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion, Iraq was seeking a new kind of balance to regain its position as an Arab power by establishing positive relations with Arab states, foremost among them Saudi Arabia. Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, the former Iraqi prime minister, played the role of the godfather of that strategy, convinced that Iraq (2) has the ability to combine Saudi and Iranian interests together, without having to lose one of the two allies, or fall into the difficult balance game.

Despite this declared desire to stand at the same distance from everyone, several indicators issued by the Iraqi government indicate that it wants to draw its orientations away from the Iranian swarm, and perhaps the most indicative incident of this trend is Tehran's summoning of the Iraqi ambassador to protest his country's use of the term "Arabian Gulf" instead of the term "Persian Gulf" adopted by Iran, during Iraq's hosting of the Arabian Gulf Championship earlier this year, a summons repeated again in May / May against the background of Iranian allegations Iraq hosted "separatist groups" during an official ceremony in Iraqi Kurdistan, a term Tehran uses to describe Iranian Kurdish groups.

From Saddam's incubator to Iran's influence

Saddam Hussein with his army during the war with Iran. (Social Media)

Baghdad played a prominent role in most of the major issues and turmoil that swept the region during the nineties and before, starting with being a founding member of the Arab League in the forties, then adopting the socialist ideology of the Syrian Baath Party, before the Baathist leadership turned to Iraq, which fell under Baathist rule from the sixties until the American invasion. With the arrival of Saddam Hussein, one of the most prominent Baath men to power, the Iraqi Republic became a stronghold of Arab nationalism and the big house of Arab "unitary" ideology, as one of the slogans of the Iraqi Baath Party was "one Arab nation with an eternal message", and this "expansionist" ideological orientation of Iraq caused tensions with its Arab neighbors, especially in the Gulf Arab states.

But in the same year that Saddam Hussein came to power, the Iranian Islamic Revolution broke out in 1979, causing greater concern in Arab circles than Iraq's socialist and nationalist orientation. Saddam sought to exploit these developments to create an image of the "Arab alignment", as he signed the Arab Defense Pact in February 1980, for reasons that were initially unannounced, but then became clear, and represented in granting legitimacy to his prospective war against Iran, which he wanted (3) to fight in the name of the Arabs and not in the name of Iraq alone, especially since Tehran had already begun to mobilize Shiite communities (4), and penetrate the previously impregnable political and ideological spaces in a number of Arab countries and on It is headed by Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Saddam Hussein entered the war in the name of the Arabs, and the new Khomeini's Iran drank the cup of poison for eight years, and from the same cup Iraq drank, as the war caused heavy losses (5) materially and humanly. However, despite these great material and human losses, the Arab nationalist call and the raising of slogans for the liberation of Jerusalem helped make Baghdad a center of power and leadership in the Middle East, politically and popularly.

In addition to ideology, Saddam possessed a cohesive state, a strong army, and oil wealth that generated financial surpluses, and despite that, (6) Iraq came out of the Iranian war politically in crisis and economically exhausted, and with the tinge of "power madness" that hit Saddam, he decided to escape from his problems towards war again, so he invaded Kuwait in 1990, under the pretext of refusing to cancel the debts he borrowed from it during his war against Iran, and also prevents it from reducing oil production in order to raise prices, a step Baghdad wanted to save its already in crisis economy.

In the end, Saddam lost the war, doing nothing but increase his country's crisis situation, and with his loss, Saddam lost the two most important elements of promoting the national project, the prestige of his army, and oil revenues. Iraq's crises were subsequently deepened by the US blockade and sanctions, and over the next decade, political stones collapsed successively until a pivotal moment in the history of Iraq and the entire region, the US invasion that overthrew the Iraqi Baath regime in 2003.

Deep-rooted Iranian influence

Toppling Saddam was a long-dreamed goal by Washington, but ironically, the most prominent beneficiary was Tehran, even though the United States and Iran were at odds ideologically dating back nearly three decades before the U.S. invasion since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. At that moment, however, the dispute asided in favor of a tacit agreement between the two countries on mutual interests: the Americans wanted to protect their security interests and the Iranians wanted to have a major share of influence inside Iraq, which was their primary enemy under Saddam. According to Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, in his book on that period, senior U.S. officials held secret conversations[7] with Iran about the future of Iraq before the invasion, and obtained promises from their enemies that the Iranian military would not fire on U.S. warplanes that deviated into Iranian airspace by mistake.

The trade balance between Iraq and Iran is tilted in numbers in favor of Iran, whose exports to Mesopotamia exceeded about ten billion dollars, compared to 200 million dollars, which is the volume of Iraqi exports to Tehran. (Anatolia)

The Baath Party was declared dead, and the interests of Washington and Tehran agreed again on the rise of a new political class, most of which belonged to the marginalized Shiite community in Saddam's time, but signs of disagreement soon appeared between these new forces, which were divided (8) in loyalty between Washington and Tehran. According to leaked Iranian documents published by (9) The Intercept, Tehran took advantage of the US invasion of Iraq to impose its control over Baghdad by preparing the Iraqi Shiite opposition first for governance, with the formation of new elite factions loyal to it, and supporting them with money and weapons, and these groups ideologically linked to the Islamic Republic regime became favored and influential, especially after these factions appeared as the defender of Iraq against the attacks of the Islamic State.

Pro-Iranian Shiite parties dominated major positions in the government, the military, and even intelligence, and a Shiite military group emerged, most notably the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)[10], which later became a force recognized by the Iraqi parliament. Meanwhile, the role of the economy was also not absent in the Iranian influence game, after (11) Iranian goods flooded Iraq, at a time when Washington was imposing a harsh sanctions package against Tehran.

The numbers clearly tell us the extent to which Iranian influence has penetrated Iraq. The trade balance between the two countries tends in the language of numbers in favor of Iran, whose exports to Mesopotamia exceeded about ten billion dollars in the last year (12), compared to 200 million dollars is the volume of Iraqi exports to Tehran, making it the third largest trading partner for Tehran after Abu Dhabi and Ankara, and despite Iran's collision with the influence of international powers inside Iraq, led by the United States and Turkey, this does not negate the fact that the Islamic Republic has an army at home consisting of armed Shiite factions that monopolize (13) Large sectors of Iraq's economy, which are also responsible for security in some areas after the defeat of the Islamic State, and the parliamentary blocs loyal to them within the parliament succeeded in issuing (14) legislation demanding the removal of US forces, but these attempts failed, after the Sudanese and his government insisted on the presence of US forces in his country, which proves that Iranian desires are no longer the only achievable in Iraq today.

A new Arabian kiss

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani. (Anatolia)

There are several indications towards the new Iraqi government to chart its direction away from Iranian influence. This trend began during the era of former Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who has long defended (15) his belief that Iraq has, like others, the possibility of combining Arab interests (specifically Saudi Arabia) and Iran together, without having to lose one of the two allies, and Al-Kazemi himself had previously announced that his orientation received the blessing of the Shiite authority, represented by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The new orientation of Iraq goes beyond rhetorical pledges, and its indicators appear clear on the ground, including, for example, the obtaining of (16) the seven largest Egyptian companies in the field of contracting to obtain preliminary approval to work in the reconstruction of Iraq, which was a resounding surprise at the political and economic levels for Tehran, which expected to extract that file by virtue of its monopoly on the construction market, and like Al-Kazemi, the Sudanese follow the same line, but apparently more boldly, seeking to establish stronger ties with the Gulf countries, and attract his country. From the arena of Iranian influence towards its Arab depth again.

Baghdad is trying to reposition itself in the box of neutrality and search for its interests first within a Middle East that seeks to draw a new political map based on the principle of zeroing regional problems as a new approach initiated by some countries such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey. On the other hand, Tehran is facing internal crises, most notably economic faltering and facing Western sanctions, which push it to try to reach a deal with the United States to recover its frozen funds and trade freely with its neighbors, especially Mesopotamia itself.

All these transformations prompted Baghdad to change its seat from a complete bias towards one of the parties to engage in mediation efforts that eventually led to the recent Saudi-Iranian agreement on the restoration of relations and the reopening of embassies.



(1) Iran and Saudi Arabia agree to restore ties at talks in Beijing

(2) Iraq and Saudi Arabia towards restoring the relationship

(3) How the Iran-Iraq war will shape the region for decades to come

(4) Ibid.

(5) Iran and Iraq remember war that cost more than a million lives

(6) Saddam Hussein Discussing 'Irangate' (Iran-Contra) Revelations with His Inner Circle

(7) U.S. Conferred With Iran Before Iraq Invasion, Book Says

(8) Iran and Iraq: The Shia Connection, Soft Power, and the Nuclear Factor


(10) The Popular Mobilization Forces and Iraq's Future

(11) Iran Dominates in Iraq After U.S. 'Handed the Country Over'

(12) Iran's annual export to Iraq increases 15%

(13) The growing economic and political role of Iraq's PMF

(14) Al-Sudani supports the indefinite stay of US forces in Iraq

(15) Iraq and Saudi Arabia towards restoring the relationship

(16) 7 Egyptian contracting companies seeking to acquire residential and infrastructure works in Iraq