Influential Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is warning both Iran and the United States against further involving Iraq in any of their conflicts, saying Iraq has been “greatly affected” by being treated as an arena for proxy fighting.
“Iraq and the Iraqis are not a party to the conflict,” Sadr warned, saying both sides should distance their Iraq ties from their mutual hostilities. Fear of being the battleground for a US-Iran conflict has been a defining part of Iraqi policy for years.
Since the 2003 US invasion and occupation, Iraq has been politically dominated by factions loyal to the US or Iran. Protest movements have pushed for autonomy heading into the June vote, and Sadr’s party is also trying to position itself as such a party, more nationalist than most.
In early January, the US assassinated a top Iranian general in Baghdad. This almost started a war, and culminated with Iran retaliating against US forces stationed on an Iraqi base. This set the stage for 2020 as a year where Iraq’s worst fears came to the fore.
While Sadr’s political bloc has somewhat alienated the protest movement in Iraq, they may still gain a lot from being a reflection of Iraqi desires for an autonomous foreign policy and not being a battleground for rival powers.