While the article “Engage Iran”, by Suzanne Maloney and Ray Takeyh, is four years old and some of the analysis may be outdated, it still gives insight into Iran’s possible influence over Iraq especially during the process of US forces pulling out of the region. The original post can be found here on the CFR website.
The authors state that Iraq would fall under internal and external pressures if left to fend on its own due to the vulnerable position that Iraq is currently in. The broader Gulf and Middle East region will suffer from Iraq’s problems, as it used to be a power and the lack of which has created a vacuum that needs to be filled. Iran would be more than happy to fill that void, and its role and ambitions will affect that outcome. This leads to a recreation of the American strategy, which now needs to focus on countering Iran’s role, and the importance of engaging Iran to help stabilize Iraq.
With US troops set to leave by the end of this year, Tehran will begin to play hegemon, and to fully achieve this role, there are two threats that will need to be deterred. These are the Baathists in Iraq and the American military, which will be interested in supplying the necessary security to foreign influence.
Iran, on the other hand, will be using its relationships with the certain Shia and Kurdish factions that are operating within Iraq. This will also affect the US role within the Iraqi government, as they have been going against the Iranian proxies throughout the war, but a further escalation could inflame Iraq and the region. It will be in US interest to restrain and redirect Iranian policies for a more peaceful Iraq.
The US challenge will be a diplomatic process that generates region-wide buy in to a stable and unified Iraq, something that would be of interest to all of the regional players. With the US leaving Iraq behind, this will invoke a degree of caution and responsibility from Iran. With the newly enflamed situation in Syria, Iran will need to create relations with the other nations in the area in the case that the al-Assad regime will not be there in the near future. The next couple years will be an important time, and in the wake of the Arab Spring, a new wave of regimes may spread. If this wave will reach Tehran and how the Iranian officials will deal with the outcome will be important to US policy in the region.