At Foreign Policy, Lara Setrakian writes:
Four years after a flurry of predictions about the “Lebanonization” of Iraq, they may be coming true. “Lebanonization” was a derogatory term, a hint at imminent civil war, political deadlock, Iran’s hand in local militias and on many domestic levers. The columns and commentary on Iraq’s “Lebanonization” issued a collective “uh oh,” warning the state would fall apart like Lebanon did from 1975-1991.
What moved the term through officialdom was a perception that Iran and Syria were playing Iraq the way they played Lebanon in 1980s: perpetuating a status quo of chaos, then profiting from the melee. The Sadrists were like Hezbollah-in-waiting, tied to Tehran and using force to stymie Iraq’s government, if they couldn’t control it outright.
“What prompted me to use the term was the external dynamic … and it has still has some validity,” said Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who has served as the top U.S. diplomat in both Iraq and Lebanon. He concedes that at present, in Iraq as in Lebanon, Iran has a virtual veto – influence enough to block any major decision that crosses its interests.
“Iran can’t call the shots in Iraq. They can’t make things happen, but they can screw things up. And they play a long game … they’re waiting for us to be gone to make life harder for Iraqis.”
Today the “Lebanonization” of Iraq is a different story, in which the parallels are mostly political. In Iraq’s March election and its tussled aftermath — there’s still no government in place and likely won’t be one until after Ramadan — analysts see a repeat of Lebanon’s 2009 parliamentary poll. In both cases a “pro-U.S.” leader edges out the Iran-backed alliance, but it’s a watered-down win. The country triangulates the interests of its three main blocs (Iraq: Shiite, Sunni, Kurd; Lebanon: Sunni, Shiite, Christian) through a long negotiation (this week talks in Baghdad broke down). Then a government theoretically comes together, balancing power among its political actors, whose voters cluster around their ethnic or religious base.
“The comparison holds. Today, Iraq has a Lebanon-style government: tribes with guns and a state that’s not able to provide what a state should provide, like basic security,” said Paul Salem from the Carnegie Endowment’s Beirut office. In the vacuum, violent groups from al Qaeda in Iraq to Salafist movements in Northern Lebanon undo law and order.