By Hussain Abdul-Hussain
Posted 2014-08-20 06:21 GMT

Iraq's Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi smiles during a meeting German's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Baghdad August 16, 2014.
Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Haidar al-Abadi is the third successive Dawa Party official to become Iraq's elected chief executive since 2003. Abadi is also Iran's man, much more so than his predecessors Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Nouri al-Maliki.
His rise to power, together with the political arrangement reached by Washington and Tehran, gives Iran ever more control of its western neighbor. President Obama bizarrely claimed this as a success for his foreign policy.

Like Jaafari and Maliki, Abadi lived in political exile. The majority of Iraqis who escaped Saddam Hussein's persecution and took refuge in Iran formed a negative view of the Iranian regime. While they thought the Islamic Republic would treat them like heroes, Iran humiliated them and treated them more like protégés.

Because of ideological differences between Dawa's founder Mohamad Baqer Al-Sadr, who believes clerical jurisprudence should be advisory, and Iran's Ruhollah Khomeini, who advocates giving the Supreme Leader unchecked power, Dawa members were often harassed in Iran. Jaafari moved to London. Maliki relocated to Syria.

In contast, Abadi, born to a Lebanese mother who lived in Najaf most of her life, left Baghdad for London. Perhaps because he did not spend time in Iran, he had a more idealistic view of the Islamic Republic.

When Dawa activists became Iraq's rulers, they saw themselves as the counterparts of Iran's leaders. But because Tehran's ayatollahs see themselves as leaders of the entire Shiite world, including Iraq, they were adamant about transforming Iraq's Shiites from equals into followers. This proved complicated.

Iraq replaced Iran as the world's fourth largest oil producer in the decade after the U.S. invasion of the country. Baghdad's annual budget was double that of Tehran's, while the Iraqi population was one-third that of Iran's. Iraq had America's support and attention. Iran could barely talk to Washington.

Maliki saw an opportunity. Using his country's vast resources and his autocratic instincts, he built a network of loyalists, undermined his domestic rivals, and neutralized regional powers.

Maliki pretended to be America's man, visiting the White House and Arlington Cemetery, and convinced Washington that pumping more Iraqi oil was in its interests because it would help push Iranian oil -- increasingly under sanctions -- out of the world market.

Meanwhile, Maliki also courted the Iranians, supported their ally in Syria, Bashar al-Assad, and ignored their abuse of Iraq's banks to circumvent international sanctions.

Finally, the outgoing Iraqi prime minister also tried to lure Saudi Arabia. When he failed, Maliki used Iraq's Sunnis as a springboard to rally more Shiites around him, accusing Saudi Arabia of sponsoring "the killing of Iraqi Shiites."

Maliki became such an independent political force that in 2010, senior Iranian leaders visited Baghdad to plead with him to join the all-Shiite ticket for parliament. He agreed with the condition that he would lead it, which Tehran refused. He eventually formed his own ticket and defeated Iran's, an exercise he repeated in 2014.

The only thing that Maliki failed to do, domestically and regionally, was make friends and allies.

He thought his network, which grew to 91 seats out of Iraq's 325-seat parliament, would keep him in power. While impressive, his bloc was far from a majority. Everybody else was against his autocracy, a sentiment that Tehran tapped into.

Outgoing Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Shahrastani and Abadi smelled blood.