Iraq today stands on the brink of total control by Iran and the establishment of a new dictatorship.

The dream for which so many American soldiers believed they were fighting is slipping away as Iraq moves in the opposite direction – toward Iran.

Iran’s presence is already visible in Iraq, from the droves of pilgrims at Shi’ite holy sites to the brands of yogurt and jam on grocery shelves, and Iraqis see clear Iranian influence since the US troops left at the end of last year.

It could be considered a natural step for the only two Shi’ite Muslim-led governments in the Sunnidominated Middle East to expand their relationship.

However, many Iraqi Shi’ites are cautious of intrusion of their country’s sovereignty and afraid of being overrun by the Iranian theocracy. Iraqis are accusing Iran of meddling in Iraqi affairs to destabilize the new democracy and strengthen Iran’s influence over it and its neighbors.

Top Iranian officials maintain they are only strengthening diplomatic and economic ties with Iraq, as they have sought to do since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein. On the other hand, head of Iranian al-Quds Brigades General Qasim Sulaimani announced recently that Iraq and South Lebanon are submissive to Tehran’s will, stating that his country could regulate any movement with the aim to form Islamic governments in both countries.

Not to mention the close relationship between Iran and Syria.

This is the goal of the Iranians: to form the Shi’ite crescent – Iran, Iraq, Syria and Southern Lebanon – controlled by Hezbollah. The aim is to encircle Israel.

Israel should worry about Iraq acquiring F-16 aircraft from the United States, especially since their pilots will be selected from among the Shi’ites most loyal to the regime in Tehran.

“Iran wants to make Iraq a weak state,” said Maj.- Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, a US military spokesman in Iraq, a few years ago. This issue has also worried many American officials who have long feared what they described as Iranian meddling in Iraq and its potential to sow unrest across the Middle East. Those worries were a chief driver of failed efforts to leave at least several thousand American troops in Iraq beyond the end of last year’s withdrawal deadline.

“The more you think about it, the more examples there are of Iranian influence,” says Buchanan.

“They’re circumstantial, but that’s how behind-thescenes influence works.”

Since Iraq’s 2010 election, Iraqis have witnessed the subordination of the state to Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki’s Iranian-backed Da’awa party, the erosion of judicial independence and intimidation of opponents.

All of this happened during the Arab Spring while other countries were ousting dictators in favor of democracy. Iraq has become a sectarian battleground in which identity politics have crippled democratic development.

Maliki has laid siege to his political opponents’ homes and offices, surrounded them with his security forces, all with the blessing of politicized judiciary and law enforcement systems that have become virtual extensions of his personal office. This is a typical textbook definition of “lawfare.”

His national security adviser has complete control over the Iraqi intelligence and national security agencies, which are supposed to be independent institutions but have become a virtual extension of Maliki’s Da’awa Party; and his Da’awa loyalists are in control of the security units that oversee the Green Zone.

The Iraqi prime minister uses secret prisons under the supervision of his elite security apparatus, and the Red Cross has conclusive evidence about these prisons.

It was stated in its recent report that there is evidence detainees being tortured to extract confessions and information. The report mentioned that some of the torture sessions were attended by Iraqi judges.

The Red Cross reported that there are three secret prisons in the Green Zone alone that are linked to Maliki’s office.

The political process in Iraq is going in a very wrong direction; it’s going toward a dictatorship, while Iran views Maliki as its man in Baghdad and has dictated the shape of the current government. This Shi’ite Islamist government bodes ill for the country’s future.

Today in Iraq, we see Maliki silencing and eliminating his opponents, using the law as a silent weapon for a quiet war.

MALIKI IS using the judicial system to attack his political opponents, and the security services in Iraq have become part of the problem as they have been proven to be managing secret detention centers where torture is practiced under the personal supervision of the Office of the Prime Minister. It was revealed recently that 36 out of 38 inspectors-general at Iraqi ministries are from Maliki’s Da’awa Party.

What we also see in Iraq now is that Iraq supports Syria, weapons from Iran being transported to Syria through Iraq, violations of UN security council resolutions against Iran and money laundering through Iraqi banks in favor of Iran with the full knowledge and support of the Office of the Prime Minister. The Iranian government played an important role in the revitalization of money laundering in Iraq by private banks in coordination with the Office of the Prime Minister.

Armed groups backed by Tehran receive millions of dollars monthly in salaries and benefits from Iraqi banks under the guise of bank transfers or investment projects or grants to civil society organizations. It has been confirmed that Tehran-backed armed groups present in southern, central and northern Iraq are dealing with specific banks in these areas and receive their funds facilitated by the Da’awa Party.

By consistently thinking of Maliki as a Shi’ite rather than an Iraqi Arab, American officials overlooked opportunities that once existed in Iraq but are now gone. Thanks to their own flawed policies, the Iraq they left behind is more similar to the desperate and divided country of 2006 than to the optimistic Iraq of early 2009.

When American forces withdrew from Iraq at the end of last year, it was thought that they would be leaving behind a country that was politically unstable, increasingly volatile, and at risk of descending into the sort of sectarian fighting that killed thousands in 2006 and 2007.

Nothing like this actually happened or will happen; instead we see Iraq falling under the full control of Iran. It is controlled by Iran’s embassy in Baghdad and its many consulates in other Iraqi cities.

From a strategic standpoint, one can say that Iraq, with all its territory and capabilities, has become Iran’s strategic depth, supplementing its regional expansion. Iran controls the political decision-making and economy of Iraq. For all of its potential, Iraq has become merely an advanced strategic base for Iran.

Iran may want to strike Israel via Hezbollah, and Iraq, due to its geographical location and the nature of the ruling powers, will be a key player in this regard. This is especially true when we observe in Iraq today that there is education, promoted by the Shi’ite parties linked to Iran, saying that the expulsion of Jews from the land of Palestine will be only at the hands of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

It should also be noted that Iran is not crazy enough to attack the Gulf States and risk losing its legitimacy, as happened with Iraq when it invaded Kuwait. Iran must not be seen attacking Muslim states, which will antagonize the Muslim world.

Iran will certainly target Israel first; this is the issue, aided by warmongering media campaigns, that would garner sympathy for Iran among the ignorant people of the Islamic world.

Dr. Suhail al-Janabi is an British Iraqi who lives in Newcastle, UK, and works as a health management consultant. He is a retired professor of pharmacology.

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