Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, senior advisor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on military affairs, has expressed the concern that Iran’s interests in Iraq could be imperiled if the upcoming Iraqi parliamentary elections change the balance of power in Iraq and weaken the position of Iran’s Shiite allies in the government. “If the makeup of the Shiites is fractured, we will have problems in the future given that oil production in Iraq will soon surpass seven million barrels. If any changes occur to the composition of the parliament and the Shiite government in Iraq, we will face problems,” the former chief commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps warned. He did not explain why Tehran is concerned about the increase in oil production in neighboring Iraq, but stressed that the Iranian government should be worried about the outcome of the Iraqi elections.
Comment: Safavi’s remarks indicate that Tehran is worried that its influence in post-ISIS Iraq may diminish as the Arab country is moving toward stability and self-reliance. In recent months, some Iraqi leaders, including Shiite clerics and politicians, have distanced themselves from Iran in the run-up to the elections. Muqtada al-Sadr, a long-time Iran ally, for example, has reached out to Saudi Arabia and other regional Sunni states – prompting concern in Tehran that other Shiite leaders may follow suit. Sadr’s trip to Riyadh deeply troubled Tehran. Iranian media outlets warned Saudi Arabia and its regional allies were attempting to court Sadr and other Iraqi leaders to undercut Iranian influence in Iraq.
Furthermore, Ammar al-Hakim, another influential Shiite Iraqi politician, left the Supreme council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and created a new movement called the National Wisdom Party. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is expected to contest the upcoming elections and potentially win a second term, is also seeking closer relations with all neighboring Arab countries and the United States. He is also an independent leader who wants all Iraqis, not just Shiites, to be included in the government.
It is against this backdrop that Tehran is concerned about the Iraqi elections. With the war against ISIS in Iraq officially over, however, Iran wants its allies within the Popular Mobilization Force to prepare to contest the elections slated for May 15 next year. Three weeks ago, several Iranian-backed P.M.F. groups led by the Badr Organization formed a new political bloc, tentatively called the "The Mujahideen Alliance." The alliance consists of pro-Iranian and anti-American groups Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Harakat al-Nujaba, Kata’ib Hezbollah, Kata’ib Jund al-Imam, Kata’ib al-Tiar al-Rasali. It will also try to incorporate Sunni tribal groups from western Iraq. Karim al-Nouri, a commander and spokesman of the Badr Organization, said the details of the new Mujahideen Alliance, made up of eight P.M.F. groups, are currently unclear, but insisted that "there will certainly be no alliance with the State of Law coalition.” Ahmed al-Asadi, who recently resigned as P.M.F. spokesman, will serve as the spokesperson for the new political alliance. Asadi’s Kata'ib Jund al-Imam is part of the coalition.
The Iraqi newspaper, Al-Jarida wrote that the Mujahideen Alliance is an Iranian effort to impose its will on Iraq as the war against ISIS is coming to an end. It added that the Badr Organization, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, and Harakat al-Nujaba "constitute the nucleus of the Mujahideen Alliance.”