Iran’s Status in Iraq’s Public OpinionJafar Haq Panah
In 2019 Iraq witnessed several months of constant protests against the inefficiency of governmental organizations and corruption in the country. The protests that occasionally turned into street riots ended in the removal of Abdul-Mahdi, and after some months of continuous consultations between different political groups, Al Kazemi was brought to power.
In recent months, foreign media propaganda outlets have been trying to show that Iraqis hate Iran, and that the hatred is mainly due to Iranian advisors and consultants’ presence in the fight against the ISIS and their assistance to military institutions like the Popular Mobilization Forces. Meanwhile, there were some nightly attacks against the headquarters of the Popular Mobilization Forces and the Iranian Consulate in Najaf was also set afire several times, all in line with such a view.
But the main question is about Iran’s status in the public opinion of the Iraqi nation. Does Iran’s popularity rank lower than that of Saudi Arabia or the US?
Where Does Iran Stands in Public opinion?
A good way to answer such a question is polling. One of the most useful ways to understand and assess people’s beliefs and behaviors and quantify the qualitative propositions is polling which has been widely used in recent years with the help of the development of mass media. It is often seen that western polling institutes conduct surveys on the public opinion of different countries about different topics. Among the topics is the public opinion of Muslims countries about the Islamic Republic of Iran. Some of the recent polls on this topic were conducted by the University of Maryland and Zogby, an American public opinion pollster.
But for the first time, an Iranian pollster, Tehran International Studies and Research Institute, conducted a similar poll. In this poll, the opinion of different Iraqi groups and tribes about the US, the EU, Iran, and other neighbors of the country was surveyed objectively and scientifically, in order to clarify the ambiguities and have a better understanding of the topic. The poll also addressed the doubts and misgivings created by biased and incomplete surveys conducted by other institutes on the topic, resulting in realistic decisions made to promote Iran’s foreign policies.
What distinguishes this poll from others is that it was conducted by well-trained surveyors in person. Another positive point about the poll is the careful selection of the sample size that is appropriate to the statistical population and demographic composition of Iraq, covering the demographic diversity of the country that consists of the Shia majority and Sunni and Kurdish groups.
Iran and America still have the highest influence on political and security dynamics of Iraq, topping the priorities of the country’s foreign policy.
Iran, US Ranks first for Iraqis
Based on the results of the poll, Iran and America still have the highest influence on political and security dynamics of Iraq, topping the priorities of the country’s foreign policy. Despite all the ups and downs and the anti-Iran propaganda, Iran still holds a significant place in Iraq’s public opinion. Meanwhile, the results of the poll show there is a negative reaction towards the US policies, including the security, political and economic relationships between the two country and the US efforts to maintain its military presence in Iraq.
Other countries have a significantly lower status compared to Iran and America. This is while Turkey and Arab countries in the region have been more financial investment in Iraq compared to Iran. This shows the importance of soft power; and when soft power is added to hard power, it creates smart power that is inevitably important.
The poll also shows that Iran’s social status and influence is still higher among the Iraqi Shia blocs and to some extent among the Kurds. But Iran needs to improve its status among the Sunni groups as well, as they have a big role in political and security equations of Iraq. Besides, a better status among the Iraqi Sunni blocs has a positive effect on Iran’s interactions with the Arab world too. Improving its influence on the Iraqi Kurds also is very significant for Iran, considering the important role of the Kurdistan Region in mutual relationships and also the developments in Syria.
Extensive efforts to destroy Iran's social base in Iraq have not yielded significant results and Iran’s policy towards Iraq is more stable compared to the US policy
Iran Tops Other Countries in Iraq
The results of the poll conducted by Tehran International Studies and Research Institute shows that Iran has a better and higher social status among Iraqis. But considering the fragility and instability of the current situation in Iraq, this status needs to be stabilized and Iran should sustain its efforts to address the existing shortcomings in its relations with various Iraqi groups, tribe, tendencies, and generations.
Thus, it seems that the extensive efforts to destroy Iran's social base in Iraq have not yielded significant results and Iran’s policy towards Iraq is more stable compared to the US policy; in fact America has been investing hope on different players to neutralize Iran’s influence. But the influence of Iran is based on hundreds of years of cultural relationship between the two civilizations.
A lot of countries have tried to get to a similar status through major investments, including Turkey that is now busy fighting armed Kurdish groups in northern Iraq. However, if Iran does not show a correct reaction to the local developments of Iraq, its influence and place will be hurt. Today the generation of Iraqis that are entering into politics have no understanding of the era of Saddam’s dictatorship and the Baathist regime, and they are dissatisfied by the inefficiency and corruption of the government.
Obviously, if Iran fails to connect with this new generation, the anti-Iran propaganda and the unfavorable view towards Iran will find a chance to grow bigger. So naturally Iran’s policies will be different from its past policies in Iraq, as we already see its flexible position towards bringing Al Kazemi to power despite the disagreements by different Groups like the Kataeb.
Iran’s policies towards Iraq have shown that it has a precise understanding of the situation in its neighboring country and that it can be flexible when required. Iran, beside the US, has the first say in Iraq.
This op-ed was originally published in Persian at https://irdiplomacy.ir/