From 2003 through 2014, Iraq walked a fine line between the demands of the United States to democratize, liberalize, share power and accept its version of checks and balances and accountable governance, and demands from its neighbor, the Islamic Republic of Iran, to create a government more in keeping with its version of a Shia-dominated Islamic state. For the first time in decades, Iran once again had access to and influence in Iraq. Iraq was open to Iranian political, economic and strategic influence and Tehran pushed the advantage it had acquired through years of hosting and sponsoring Iraqi exiles, mostly Shia Arabs, using them first to fight its war with Iraq and then to penetrate and direct political, economic, and security policy making after the collapse of Saddam Husayn’s government.
Not all Iraqis were comfortable with Iranians’ influence in their affairs, but there was little that could be said or done to oppose them. Iraq’s Sunni neighbors accused the United States of ceding Iraq to Iran by supporting open elections, which guaranteed a Shia majority, and failing to rein in sectarian policies aimed at marginalizing Iraq’s Sunni minority. As U.S. influence dwindled in Iraq after the withdrawal of military forces in December 2011, Iran continued to support various political factions and militias and encourage anti-American activities in hopes of forcing the Americans to withdraw totally from the region.
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