[I’m not sure when I wrote this, actually.]
A lot of Iranian foreign policy is driven by the history of the various Persian empires that have existed in a continuous arc for three thousand years. Iranian civilization today is the direct descendant of Persian civilization three millennia ago. Persian civilization never disappeared, was never destroyed and reborn, it’s perhaps the oldest continuous civilization in the world. Persia has been playing this game in Iraq and Syria for thousands of years and are very aware they have been doing so.
We are not. We will never. We can’t even begin to fathom what is going on. Iraq is a lattice of grudges going back to the very dawn of civilization, grudges that last for centuries, for eons, grudges so old people’s don’t even know why they hate other peoples except that their ancestors did, and those ancestors never questioned why either. Civilization doesn’t mean everyone gets along. Put a few thousand years of lots of civilizations in one relatively small area and you get quite a beautiful mess. Humanity thrives on conflict. Otherwise we’d be like the Neanderthals, scarcely changing in a hundred thousand years, peacefully using the same flint tools for 5,000 generations. But look what Homo sapiens have achieved in a mere 500 generations of civilization in the Middle East. A lot of rich history, a lot of extraordinary cultures, a lot of endless fighting. But with drones now, no stone tools.
In the long sweep of the history of the Middle East, our Iraqi intervention will scarcely be noted. We we there and then we were gone a couple decades later, and we made no difference whatsoever.