Iran in Iraq: The Limits of Smart Power Amidst Public Protest

Hosted by the Middle East Centre

Zoom Meeting (Online)


Jessica Watkins

Jessica Watkins

LSE Middle East Centre

Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi

Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi



Ghoncheh Tazmini

Ghoncheh Tazmini

LSE MIddle East Centre


This event is the launch of Dr Jessica Watkins' latest paper Iran in Iraq: The Limits of 'Smart Power' Amidst Public Protest

Post 2003, Iran has shown greater aptitude than Western states for penetrating Iraqi politics and society, producing ‘smart power’ by manipulating the combination of identity politics, patronage networks, and coercion which have become prevalent in both. But Iranian interference has been a major source of grievance for Iraqis since the outbreak of the October 2019 popular protests, undermining the Islamic Republic’s non-coercive influence.

This paper situates Iran’s influence-gaining strategies in Iraq within its broader regional foreign policy objectives. Focusing on heritage, religious authority, charitable activities and media broadcasting, the paper draws on Arabic and Farsi language social and traditional media sources to argue that while the Islamic Republic has invested in potential sources of ‘soft power’ to broadly appeal to Iraqis, it has prioritised core support groups whose activities are increasingly unpalatable to the public. The paper reflects on how international actors should respond to current expressions of anti-Iran sentiment in Iraq.

Jessica Watkins is a Research Officer at the LSE Middle East Centre. She works on the DfID sponsored Conflict Research Programme and her research focuses on regional and domestic drivers of conflict and peace in Iraq and Syria. Jessica has a BA from Cambridge University in Arabic and French, a Masters in International Relations from the War Studies Department, King’s College London, and a PhD on civil policing in Jordan, also from the War Studies Department.

Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi is Senior Research Fellow at the International Security Studies department at RUSI. Her research is concerned with security and geopolitics in the Middle East, with a particular focus on Iran and Iraq’s foreign and domestic politics, drivers of radicalisation, and drones proliferation. She has nearly a decade of experience in international relations and security in the Middle East working in academia, think tanks and consultancies, including King’s College London, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), Oxford Research Group, and various international consultancy firms.

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Image: ©Ameer Al Mohammedaw/dpa/Alamy Live News


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