From the Rubble of the U.S. War in Iraq, Iran Built a New Order
“The U.S. can overthrow Saddam Hussein,” said Aziz, an Iraqi Christian and one of the most senior figures in Saddam’s government. “You can destroy the Baath Party and secular Arab nationalism.” But, he warned, “America will open a Pandora’s box that it will never be able to close.” The iron-fisted rule of Saddam, draped in the veneer of Arab nationalism, he argued, was the only effective way to deal with forces like Al Qaeda or prevent an expansion of Iranian influence in the region.
When the U.S. invaded, Aziz was the eight of spades in the card deck the Pentagon created to publicize its high-value targets. He was ultimately captured, held in a makeshift prison at the Baghdad airport, and forced to dig a hole in the ground to use as a latrine. He died in custody of a heart attack in June 2015. But Aziz lived long enough to watch exactly what he warned of come to pass, accusing U.S. President Barack Obama of “leaving Iraq to the wolves.”
The 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq marked the moment when the U.S. lost control of its own bloody chess game. The chaos unleashed by the U.S. invasion allowed Iran to gain a level of influence in Iraq that was unfathomable during the reign of Saddam. Secret documents from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, obtained by The Intercept, give an unprecedented picture of how deeply present-day Iraq is under Iranian influence. The sovereignty once jealously defended by Arab nationalists has been steadily eroded since the U.S. invasion.
The country that Iran assumed influence over had been shattered by decades of war, military occupation, terrorism, and economic sanctions. Iraq is still struggling with the legacy of years of sectarian bloodshed, the emergence of violent jihadi groups, and widespread corruption unleashed by the U.S. invasion and occupation. In the face of this national tragedy, some citizens express nostalgia for the authoritarian stability of Saddam’s regime. Navigating this chaotic situation is no easy task for any foreign power.
In the years after the 2003 invasion, some U.S. politicians cited the “Pottery Barn” analogy to justify a continued long-term presence in Iraq. It was the invasion that broke Iraqi society. So, as the analogy went, having broken the country, the United States now needed to buy it. In reality, the U.S. shattered Iraq and ultimately walked away. It was Iran that ended up figuring out what to do with the pieces.
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