BAGHDAD – The escalating tension between Saudi Arabia, the United States and Iran threatens the whole region, especially countries where Shiite militias are operative and could become the target of military operations.
Such a scenario sparks concerns in Iraq, whose airspace has already been violated and where attacks on Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces have been carried out.
Although the Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack on two refineries belonging to the Saudi state-owned oil company Aramco, Riyadh said the attacks were carried out from the north, backed by Iran.
Saudi Arabia, however, has not said the attacks were launched from Iranian soil.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi publicly denied the attacks were carried out from his country.
He even phoned the United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying that Baghdad does not allow its territory to be used as a platform to launch attacks on neighboring countries.
Amid the agitated situation, Iraq decided not to take part in an international fleet driven by the US in a bid to safeguard free navigation in the Persian Gulf and its surroundings.
The decision came after talks between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif and his Iraqi counterpart Mohamed Ali al-Hakim.
“It is clear that Iran has influence over Iraqi exterior policies and it is executing pressure on Iraq not to take part in any alliance in the region against it,” political analyst Abdullah al-Jaburi, professor at the Faculty of Political Science of the University of Baghdad, told Efe.
“The statement by the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in which he underscored that Iraq will not join any force that protects maritime routes in the Gulf can be a result of the communication between Zarif and al-Hakim.” he added.
According to the analyst, Iran has significant influence over sectors such as Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, which have been attacked over the last few weeks by unidentified aircraft.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a commander in the Popular Mobilization Forces, blamed the US and Israel for the attacks.
The US ambassador to Baghdad Matthew Toller denied these accusations during a meeting with the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Mohammed al-Halbusi, last week.
The Iraqi prime minister told journalists on 17 September that he thought Israel could be responsible for the attacks on the Popular Mobilization Forces, although he said there was no evidence.
“If we want to go to the (United Nations) Security Council, what are we going to present? We have no evidence but some press releases, so we, as a state, need concrete things to move diplomatic things,” he said.
But what is clear to the prime minister is that the regional crisis is not something new, but a result of an accumulation of linked crises, such as the conflicts in Iraq, Syria and the Gulf as well as the war in Yemen.
“If Iraq becomes a battlefield, the entire region and the world will burn,” he asserted.
Iran has perceived a “real danger” since Donald Trump took the lead during his successful campaign for the presidential election which focused on the Iranian role in the region, an expert in the Arab Forum for Policy Analysis, Nazim Ali, told Efe.
“Since then, Iran has begun considering to move the battle to other countries, especially where it has militias such as Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, but the importance of Iraq exceeds the rest. Iraq is the vital artery of Iran that helps ease US sanctions,” he said.
Iran managed to establish dozens of militias in Iraq “directly and indirectly” and took advantage of the security problems that emerged amid the war against the Islamic State terror organization to provide weapons to the militia, Ali added.
“All this means that Iraq is in danger inevitably, and there is a high probability that the attacks will first be directed at the militias in Iraq rather than Iran,” he concluded.
In such a scenario, Ali said, “Iraq will enter the battle against its will, and it may eventually lead to a new chaos that will bring down the government for the opposition of many to Iraq being aligned with Iran in this battle, which is just around the corner.”