An anti-government protest in Baghdad
© REUTERS / Thaier al-Sudani
An anti-government protest in Baghdad
Baghdad's ruling class is beyond saving, so it's time to scrap it in its entirety, believes a neocon pundit who served in the Bush administration. What was the saying about doing the same thing and hoping for different results?

Things are really bad in Iraq these days. There are mass protests, where young people demand democracy, an end to corruption and that Iranians go back to their country. But Iranians have been "imperially usurping the authority of Iraq's elected leaders," and now "the rot of Iranian penetration" has rendered the entire Iraqi ruling class beyond saving. They need to go, and the US has things to do.

That's the premise of an op-ed published by Foreign Policy magazine under the title 'Iraq Needs Regime Change Again'. The author is John Hannah, a neoconservative pundit with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. During the George W Bush era, Hannah worked as an aide to mustached arch-hawk John Bolton before moving to the team of Vice President Dick Cheney. A few years ago, he was part of Donald Trump's transition team.

With credentials like these, Hannah's position is unsurprising, but his line of reasoning gives a good insight into the kind of gaslighting and wishful thinking feeding US Middle East policy.

Take, for example, his description of events leading to the US's assassination of Iran's General Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). PMF launched rocket attacks against facilities hosting US forces and killed a US contractor, thus "crossing an unambiguous red line." After the US retaliated, the Iraqi government allowed "a mob" to "lay siege" to the US embassy in Baghdad, where "heavily armed but outnumbered US Marines steeled themselves to repel a potential assault a la Tehran in 1979 or Benghazi in 2012." And then the US was "forced into the position of droning convoys on major Baghdad highways carrying senior Iraqi and Iranian military commanders openly conspiring to attack US interests."

So, Washington is pretty much a victim here! Never mind, for instance, Israeli airstrikes at PMF bases in Iraq, which have been killing Iraqis since July 2019. Or the fact that the embassy 'siege' resulted in zero casualties on the American side.

Hannah's plan for the proposed new regime change doesn't seem to include any Shock and Awe-style action. Instead, Washington should "invest less in the Iraqi government and more in the [anti-government] protest movement". The protesters are "an historic challenge to all that Iran has perpetrated in Iraq", he argues, and while they "have no love lost for an America that they blame for saddling them after 2003 with a botched occupation and a failed political system," they are secretly somewhat pro-American.

"After the targeted killings of Soleimani and Muhandis, the protesters did make a point of coupling their standard chant of 'No, no Iran' with 'No, no America.' But talk to them confidentially and they will admit that including the United States is largely a means of reducing the risk of being attacked by Iran's unforgiving proxies," he wrote. Or, to cite Hannah's former boss, "My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."

The big goal for Hannah is "banishing Iraq's current crop of corrupt rulers, Islamist parties, and Iranian toadies to the political margins". But wasn't that exactly what the US did to Iraq after Saddam Hussein's rule? And the chaos created afterwards brought about the rise of various insurgency and terror groups, including the Islamic State.

And last, but not least: Hannah's big argument in favor of toppling the Iraqi government again is that it has been perpetrating violence against its own people and is beyond redemption. Assuming this is true, and Iran's puppets are waiting for an excuse to unleash tanks on democratic protests... An almost 3,000-word suggestion to use the demonstrators as a patsy to stick it to Tehran and publishing it in a leading US magazine doesn't seem like a far-sighted thing to do.