The U.S. war in Iraq resulted in the rise of the long-suppressed Iraqi Shiites and coincidentally, unfortunately for Washington, closer ties with Shiite Iran. But a stalwart Iraqi nationalism and a wariness of dominance by foreign powers has manifested in some bitterness toward Iran.
Last month, a senior Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, announced that he was planning set up an office in the holy Shiite Iraqi city of Najaf and was met with harsh resistance from Iraqis.
“Do you know who in Iraq hates Iran more than anyone? It is Najaf,” Neama al-Ebadi, director of the Najaf-based Iraq Center for Research and Studies told the Washington Post, reiterating a view widely shared among the local public in Najaf.
“The Shiites of Iran are Iranian first. They think they’re superior to Arabs. But Najafis believe they are the original Shiites and the Iranians are just copies,” he explained.
While Shiites across Iraq and many in the country’s religious and political leadership are sure to be much more friendly towards Iran than in years past, nearly ten years of military occupation and political and economic domination from the U.S. has taught many Iraqi Shiites lessons on sovereignty and political independence. And they aren’t willing to sacrifice those for an Iran that many see as trying to expand its influence in the region.