BAGHDAD – A political source in Baghdad revealed that Iran plans to overthrow the three presidents in Iraq ahead of early parliamentary elections scheduled for the summer of 2021, but its ambitions are facing serious difficulties.
Since the ousting of Iran’s ally and former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and his government following massive and unprecedented protests that began in October 2019 and lasted for months, Iran has branded his replacements, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, President Barham Salih and Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi as allies of Saudi Arabia and the United States.
The sources expect that the Iranian plan to overthrow the three presidents in Iraq will be revitalised once the results of the American presidential election are known.
The source familiar with the scenes of the political movement that has been taking place for days said “Iran is working according to the principle of ‘what cannot be fully achieved, should not be totally abandoned’, meaning that it will accept any partial victory resulting from this plan.”
Iran believes that the popular protests unfairly toppled its ally Abdul-Mahdi but ignored Salih and Halbousi; and that to add insult to injury, they put forward its old opponent, Kadhimi as the new head of government.
Iran-affiliated Iraqi politicians, analysts and writers are publicly expressing this vision in the media and on social media, and are working hard to rally Shias behind this hypothesis, but to no avail.
Sources said that Tehran was betting on the anger of some political parties for not being represented at the three highest positions in the country in order to effect major change. It is, for example, fuelling the anger of Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani against Salih, feeding the anger of the Sunni Islamic Party against Halbousi and feeding the anger of its followers within extremist Shia wings against Kadhimi.
This hypothesis developed in light of the emergence of a Sunni political movement supported by Iran and Turkey to dismiss Halbousi, who represents the second generation of Sunni politicians and is adopting a liberal model while being open to relations with Arab Gulf states, the West and the United States.
A coalition front made up of the Turkey-backed Arab Project Party led by Khamis al-Khanjar and the Salvation Front led by Osama al-Nujaifi, in addition to the Masses Party led by Ahmed al-Jubouri “Abu Mazen” and supported by Nuri al-Maliki, one of Iran’s most prominent men in Iraq, have joined the efforts of the Islamic Party led by Rashid al-Azzawi, to remove Halbousi, in conjunction with a green light from Kurdish leader Barzani and Shia leaders to replace Salih and Kadhimi.
The Islamic Party, the arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq, has become a reliable ally of Iran ever since Azzawi became its top man.
Azzawi, a Sunni, spent nearly half his life as a refugee in Iran, got married there and built extensive relationships with Iranian political and military leaders before returning to Iraq after 2003.
The sources said that the leader of the Badr Organisation, Hadi al-Amiri, and the leader of the State of Law coalition, Nuri al-Maliki, share roles within the Iranian plan. The first takes the role of the “good cop” in the game, appearing cool and wise, while the second plays the role of the “bad cop,” leading sustained political pressure operations through the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) to mobilise the crowd with the aim of toppling Halbousi first, and Kadhimi and Salih if possible.
Maliki cannot forget that Halbousi insisted on passing the election law in a multi-district formula that lies at the heart of the demands of the October protesters.
Maliki wants every Iraqi governorate to be a single district so that it will be easy for him to obtain seats in central and southern governorates, where most of his supporters are, but difficult for him to compete if they are divided in many smaller districts.
Maliki is seeking to appease his fierce Shia opponent, Muqtada al-Sadr, in order to unify Shia efforts against Halbousi, Kadhimi and Salih, but Sadr prefers to “stay on top of the hill” for the time being, according to observers.
For the first time in years, Maliki announced that he did not object to coordinating political efforts with Sadr, who sponsors a parliamentary bloc of 52 MPs, which was considered by many as an indication of the intentions of the leader of the State of Law Coalition to make concessions in exchange for building an alliance against the heads of arliament, the government and the republic.
Observers say that Iran prefers to overthrow the three presidents months before the date of early elections so that its allies can arrange their cards and regain absolute control over political life in the country.
But achieving this goal seems very difficult given the complex intertwining of internal and external lines.
While Barzani seems to want to take the presidency from Salih because he thinks it is a personal right for his family, the veteran Kurdish leader still remains a prominent ally and personal friend of Kadhimi.
Given Sadr’s unclear stance towards Kadhimi, achieving a Shia consensus to overthrow him does not seem easy, and Halbousi’s close relationship with many Shia and Kurdish political parties also makes it difficult to come to an understanding on his removal.