For years, the U.S. and its loyal Gulf allies have relied on propaganda and media outlets to induce fear of Iran around the world.

For years, the U.S. and its loyal Gulf allies have relied on propaganda and media outlets to induce fear of Iran around the world. The Trump administration’s strategy in dealing with Iran is based on curbing its expansion and influence in the Middle East, with a focus on Iraq. Iran wields tremendous influence in Iraq, whose economy is now almost entirely dependent on Iranian exports of food, energy, and consumer goods.

Fifteen years after the end of the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the ousting of former President Saddam Hussein provided a strategic opportunity for Iran to exploit the instability of Iraq. Iran benefited from the political vacuum that followed, activating its political and sectarian agenda across Iraq.

Iranian influence in Iraq now takes various forms, including the charitable, cultural, and military institutions that were established in 2003, such as the Quds Force, the Mili Bank, and other pro-Iranian banks.

In the early stages of its confrontation with Iran beginning in 2018, Washington collided with the consequences of its blockade and invasion of Iraq in 2003. Since then, the U.S. has been seemingly incapable of limiting Iran’s influence in Iraq—a country which the U.S. spent billions of dollars on neutralizing under the asserted pretext that it had weapons of mass destruction.

On November 5, 2018, after pulling out of the JCPOA nuclear deal, the U.S. implemented a second round of sanctions on Iran.

On November 5, 2018, after pulling out of the JCPOA nuclear deal, the U.S. implemented a second round of sanctions on Iran. It also imposed a ban on the importation of Iranian oil ostensibly to eliminate alleged “terrorist” financing sources. However, the U.S. exempted Iraq and eight other countries from the ban.

In fact, the U.S. had little option but to exempt Iraq because imported Iranian products amount to 80 percent of Iraq’s consumption. “Iraq will be the most affected country from these sanctions in the region if it does not get a real exception from some sanctions related to energy and food importation by thousands of tons from Iran on a daily basis,” an Iraqi official warned in a statement to Al Araby.

The value of non-oil exports to Baghdad—including food, construction materials, cars, transport equipment, and a number of other products—rose from $2.3 billion in 2008 to $6.2 billion in 2015, according to the Iranian Trade Promotion Organization. In May 2014, Ali Tayebnia, Iran’s Minister of Economy and Finance anticipated that the volume of trade between Iran and Iraq would “reach as high as $20 billion in value by the next three years from the present $12 billion.”

After the U.S. invasion in 2003, with the exception of oil, many of Iraq ’s resources that had previously supported its economy were destroyed. Since the invasion, Iraq has been unsuccessful in securing a transition to democracy, one of the U.S.’s justifications for its war and occupation of Iraq.

One of the reasons that Iraq has not yet built a democracy is that the U.S. began to redistribute political power along sectarian lines shortly after the invasion, enabling Iran-backed Shiites to take power in Iraq. American diplomat Paul Bremer, former administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, laid the foundation for the first sectarian quota in Iraq’s history on July 13, 2003. Political positions were distributed among the three largest groups: the president position was allocated to the Kurds; the prime minister, who is the Iraqi head of state, to the Shiites; and the speaker of parliament to the Sunnis.

The quota system served as a catalyst for a civil war and sectarian conflict in the country as well as the emergence of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State.

ISIS first emerged in 2004 under the name of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Islamist group was founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and it participated in the Iraqi insurgency after the 2003 invasion. The group was rebranded as ISIL in 2014.

The U.S. and Iran have worked together since 2003 to confront the Islamic State, a common enemy.

The U.S. and Iran have worked together since 2003 to confront the Islamic State, a common enemy. Thus, both countries have contributed to the creation of a weak, dependable, and non-sovereign Iraq.

Karim al-Saadi, an economist, said that trade during the years following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, “has been leaning in favor of Iran, where the value of the trade is about $12 billion dollars per year.”

In contrast to the benefit provided by Iranian imports to Iraq, Iran has weakened Iraq’s agriculture sector by restricting the flow of about 42 rivers and streams flowing from Iranian territory into Iraq. Iraq accused Iran and Turkey of redirecting or constricting river tributaries and causing a drought crisis.

Notwithstanding such serious accusations, the Iraqi government, divided along sectarian lines, appears weak and unable to protect its autonomy and sovereignty from the influences of either the U.S. or Iran.

Although the U.S. and Iran do not appear to be in any position to engage in armed conflict in Iraq, the two countries continue to exploit Iraq’s natural resources, wreak havoc on the natural environment, and destroy infrastructure, thereby endangering Iraqi lives and essentially using the population as pawns in the game to diminish each other’s influence— just as they have done for the past 15 years.