March 2009: In Ramadi, hundreds of Iraqis protest a visit by former Iranian President Rafsanjani.
How many times have we heard that the war in Iraq was a victory for Iran? During almost every speech I’ve given, some audience member professes how stupid the Bush Administration was for failing to see that the majority of Iraq’s population is Shiite, and therefore loyal to Iran. Yes, the fall of Saddam Hussein enabled Iranian proxies to expand their influence by having greater freedom of action, but this interference has backfired in dramatic fashion.
A new poll shows that 43% of Iraq’s Shiites have a negative view of Iran’s political influence in their country, and only 18% have a positive view. The Iranians have long nurtured ties to the Shiite opposition to Saddam, have dispatched hundreds of operatives to the country, and spent tens of millions of dollars, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, to subvert the country.
And the result? The Iraqis voted for the cross-sectarian alliance of Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite that has long been an enemy of Iraq. Prime Minister al-Maliki came in a close second, and while he does not speak ill of Iran, his popularity dramatically increased as his forces fought the Iranian-backed “Special Groups” and militias. The pro-Iranian religious parties were smashed in the elections. This new poll shows that the backlash against Iran had an important role in this political victory. The Shiites are not a monolith, and there is a side that stands in the corner of secularism and democracy.
Oh, if only those elected politicians were as smart as me—that audience member seems to say in his mind–they would have known the country would fall apart and how dumb their policies are. This frustrates me because if it was so simple and clear, they obviously wouldn’t have done it. To assume the Bush Administration was that dumb and you are so smart is the height of pride and an unwillingness to think the opposite side has any credibility.
The latest election results and this poll shows that the Iranian government and the ideology they espouse has lost the war for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi Shiites—the constituency they hoped to use to dominate the country.