Iran Has Emerged as the Main Victor

Iran has emerged the main victor in post-Saddam Iraq. Iranian influence permeates all Iraqi political and military institutions, and Iran’s Quds Force Commander, Qassem Soleimani, commands a powerful network of Iraqi Shiite militia groups that are not entirely accountable to the Baghdad government.

The 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq presented both opportunities and challenges for Iran. On the one hand, Iran’s desire to expel U.S. forces from its western neighbor materialized, but it also resulted in the emergence of ISIS, which captured more than a third of Iraqi territory and threatened to undo all Iranian gains in post-Saddam Iraq. Tehran, however, skillfully transformed the threat into an opportunity. Soleimani played an active role in remobilizing Shiite militia groups to take on ISIS. And Iranian-supported groups within the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) today control large swaths of territory in strategic provinces and wield significant influence over Iraqi politics.

Iranian leaders and PMF commanders are currently pressing the Baghdad government not to disband or weaken the paramilitary forces after the ouster of ISIS. That will pose the biggest challenge to post-ISIS reconciliation efforts in Iraq and further consolidate Iran’s influence in Iraq at the expense of Iraqi sovereignty and stability as well as U.S. national security interests. Thus, the U.S. should work with the Baghdad government to fully integrate PMF units into the Iraqi security forces and gradually disband units that are controlled by Iran.

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