Sunday, May 31, 2009


When people like John Bolton and Dick Cheney talk about Iran, it tends to be in a threatening, bellicose manner, as in, "we ought to bomb Iran." As part of their drum-beat to war, they usually cite the animosity of Arabs towards Iranians as somehow proof that the Iranians are the "bad guys."

But we know that there is a dislike on the part of Arabs towards Iranians, not only because of ethnic differences, language differences, but also because Iranians tend to consider themselves to be better educated and advanced, speaking in cultural generalities.

Today in The New York Times, Sam Dagher writes about Iraqi attitudes towards Iranian pilgrims to the Shiite holy shrines.

"KARBALA, Iraq — Over just two days, about 80 Iranian pilgrims were killed in April in suicide bombings in Iraq. But even though the pilgrims are clearly a favored target for Sunni extremists in Iraq, and though the threat continues, it seems nothing will keep the Iranians from coming here.

"On a recent afternoon, a group of pilgrims from the Iranian city of Isfahan — many in tears and in a trancelike state — inched toward the shimmering golden-domed shrine ahead chanting “Hussein beloved” in Persian. Inside, Iranians jostled other pilgrims to grip the ornate gold and silver cagelike structure bearing the tomb of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Imam Hussein, shrouded in green fabric embroidered with precious stones."

But it seems that many Iraqis resent the Iranians and their presence. Especially the Sunni Iraqis who consider Shiites to be heretics. So there is at least a three-fold basis for Iraqi discrimination against the Iranian pilgrims: they speak Farsi, not Arabic; they are Shiites, not Sunni; and they are Persian, not Arabs. But the Iranian pilgrims keep coming.

Writes Dagher:

"While the United States and surrounding Arab nations worry about direct Iranian influence and support for armed groups, the pilgrimages present a small but important example of Iran’s rising soft power in Iraq. And it is something that makes Iraqis increasingly resentful."

Yet the relationship between Iraqis and Iranians is complex.

Dagher writes:

"Recently, the Interior Ministry banned Persian signs inside Karbala despite the fact most Iranian pilgrims speak no Arabic.

"In April, Karbala’s residents demonstrated against the awarding of a contract to an Iranian company, Al Kawthar, to renovate the historic city center, including the area around the shrines of Imam Hussein and his brother Abu Fadhil al-Abbas, part of a $100-million project. Officials say they have been inundated with petitions against the Iranian proposal.

"“We are Arabs, we will not accept to be colonized by anyone,” said Ali al-Hayawi, a hotel owner in Karbala catering to pilgrims, who is opposed to Iran’s involvement in the project. “We do not take orders from the Iranians.”

"The dynamic in Karbala suggests that Iran may have a hard time exerting any deep sway among Iraqis, even among fellow Shiites, with suspicion playing out on several fronts. But at the national level, the relationship is more of a tug of war. The Iraqi government may want to keep Iran at arm’s length, but it also needs Iran economically and as a strategic ally."

Imagine what would happen if the war mongers like Cheney and Bolton, and for that matter, Israel's Netanyahu and Lieberman, got their way, and the U.S. attacked Iran. The whole of the Middle East, especially Iraq, would get caught up in a world war that would ignite conflagration and destruction lasting for years, if not for centuries. Iraq would then have to choose between its neighbor Iran and the U.S.

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