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Iraqis Unite Over Their Rejection Of Iranian Coercion – OpEd

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By Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami *

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Over the past few days, the Iraqi people have reiterated their rejection of the Iranian products being sold in the country, culminating in the launch of an awareness-raising campaign — the second in two years — on social media platforms.

These social media protests were also a response to Iran’s reduction or even full cuts in supplying Iraq with electricity. Iraq is now dependent on Iran for much of its power supply, leading to outages for several hours every day. The “Let it rot” and “Let it spoil” hashtags quickly began trending on social media platforms, urging Iraqis to boycott Iranian products. Iraqis enthusiastically picked up on the campaign, expressing their anger and unhappiness at Iran’s policies and unneighborly practices. Some social media users cited the maxim “A heap of stones is better than this neighbor,” with many also mocking the poor quality of the Iranian products flooding Iraq, calling them the lowest-quality goods on the market, and numerous Twitter posts called for a total boycott of Iranian products.

These increasingly widespread calls for a boycott of Iranian products (including foodstuffs, household items, cars and engineering and petrochemical products) reflect the rising public discontent among Iraqis at Tehran’s illegal practices against Iraq and its people. These calls also reflect a new and rapidly growing spirit of disillusionment toward Iran among Iraqis, who are sending a very clear message reiterating their rejection of Iran’s political blackmail of Iraq, which aims to force Baghdad to submit to Tehran’s interests.

The campaigns also display Iraqis’ continuing keen awareness and resentment of Iran’s provocative behavior and of the grave dangers of relying on Iran as the sole source of the country’s energy supplies, as well as the need to penalize Tehran by boycotting Iranian goods and services with the aim of forcing it to comply with the terms of signed agreements related to gas and other imports.

Popular Iraqi campaigns of this nature reveal that the people can still wield a powerful weapon against Iran and its political blackmail. Iraq is one of Iran’s most important neighbors in terms of securing Tehran’s financial needs and enabling it to reach outside markets. It is a vital economic outlet for Iran, allowing it to mitigate the impact of sanctions, as well as occupying a significant position in Tehran’s foreign trade balance as the second-largest destination for exports behind China.

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Iran’s exports to Iraq generated nearly $7 billion during the last nine months of 2021 alone, which is extremely vital for Tehran, especially considering the US sanctions that have dried up the sources of foreign currency, primarily oil revenues. Iraq is also a useful outlet for selling Iranian products and a source of income for the Iranian workforce in the fields of trade, industry, agriculture and tourism. These factors underline that Iraqis’ popular anger at Iran is a powerful weapon against Tehran that could force it to curtail its repeated use of its levers against Iraq to enforce its dominance over Baghdad.

Rising popular protests against Iranian products and policies make room for rival products and few would argue there are no affordable and preferable alternatives to the dirt-cheap, low-quality Iranian products. These alternatives include supplying the Iraqi consumer market’s needs with goods from the Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, by strengthening Iraq’s trade relations with these nations through the signing of several agreements. By returning to its brotherly Arab sphere, Iraq could also rely on countries such as Egypt. Turkey is another strong competitor for the Iraqi market that could contribute to curbing the dominance of Iranian products. In other words, there are competitively priced, higher-quality alternatives that could compensate for any shortages in the Iraqi market and help curb the presence of low-quality Iranian products.

This growing popular awareness among the Iraqi public of the dangers posed by Iran and its projects in Iraq prompted some Arab and Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, to sign agreements on providing Iraq with electricity without any political blackmail. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi last year announced that Iraq had completed 85 percent of the work related to the interconnected electricity supply project between Iraq and the Gulf states, adding that this shared power grid will be completed in 2022.

This comes as part of a consensus between these countries on helping to develop Iraq and enhance its ability to meet its electricity needs, meaning that this lever has outlived its usefulness for Iran, with the Iranian share making up nearly a third of Iraq’s overall electricity supply.

We cannot address the subject of Iraqi public opinion — and its role in bringing about a new Iraqi equation to curb the influence of the pro-Iran militia groups over decision-making at home and overseas — without pointing to the success of the popular protests in influencing the choices of consecutive governments in recent years. Protests are critical in supporting Al-Kadhimi’s plan to transition Iraq to the phase of full statehood and establish balanced relations with the outside world: A goal that collides with Iran’s gains and the implementation of its expansionist schemes in Iraqi territory. Iraqi protesters have also, more importantly, dealt a severe blow to the Shiite alliances in Iraq’s parliament.

The Fatah alliance, Iran’s closest ally, fell to fifth position in the legislative elections of 2021, compared to the second position it won in the 2018 vote. By contrast, the movements supportive of transitioning Iraq to the phase of full statehood, such as the Sadrist bloc, which came first in the 2021 legislative election, captured leading positions. The Sunni Al-Taqadum alliance came in second place in the election, taking the place of Fatah.

On balance, it seems that the Iraqis are intent on forcing a new approach that rejects the Iranian control that turned their country into a state beset by multiple crises after nearly two decades of war. A new Iraqi state could stand as a strong bulwark against Iran’s expansionist projects and curtail its political blackmailing of Baghdad when it is at its most vulnerable. This new Iraqi spirit of defiance and protest also reveals a powerful Iraqi lever, to which the government could resort in order to curb Iranian influence and progress. It can use a policy of diversifying Iraq’s relations with the wider world on the one hand, while contributing to advancing down the path of building a new Iraq — established on the pillars of sovereignty, independence and inclusion in the Arab sphere — on the other. This might prompt Tehran to reconsider its calculus when using its levers against Iraq and its people.

• Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah).

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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