The unexpectedly poor showing of Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, in parliamentary elections has dealt a blow to US influence in the country. It was a poor return for American backing for the Baghdad government’s drive to extirpate Islamic State and regain lost territory. But the bigger loser may be Iran, whose allies in Iraq’s Shia militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces were pushed into second place by Moqtada al-Sadr, the veteran nationalist. Put simply, Sadr believes Iraqis should run Iraqi affairs – not Washington, not Tehran and not their proxies.
The pressing question now, for Iraqis and the wider Arab world, is whether the election marks the high watermark of Iranian influence that has grown steadily across the region since the 2003 US invasion. Recent events have blown large holes in the prevailing narrative of an inexorable Iranian advance. In short, have we reached “peak Iran”?
Evidence the tide may be turning emerged last week after Donald Trump, in effect, tore up the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sweeping sanctions.
Tehran’s fractured leadership seemed caught off-guard by the full force of the US president’s denunciation. It has failed so far to articulate a clear response.