Cultural Depth of Iranian Influence in Iraq

Firas Elias

Iranian Affairs Researcher

Translated by Shaimaa Shedeed

Preface

The cultural dimension plays a vital role in solidifying the Iranian leverage in Iraq and such dimension is always recalled in the Iranian mind since the first moment Iran attempted to fill the political vacuum in Iraq after 2003. Actually, the Iranian strategy exerted much efforts in inventing tools and ways that can strengthen its cultural power in Iraq, meantime, the shock strategy used by the US to prepare the cultural and political Iraqi environment to accept some foreign ideologies led the Iraqi people to stand helpless in front of the robust Iranian expansion to fill the vacuum resulted from the Iraqi state absence with its all institutions and bodies.

Recalling the history, we can realize the way Iranian decision maker finds himself in front of many historical and political justifications that push him to pay utmost concern to the matter of establishing cultural depth in Iraq, which resulted in several odd cases in the Iraqi society accompanied the prominence of the Iranian leverage features in Iraq to the fullest.

The Iranian role in this field has been prevailed in the practices below:

Solidification of the Iranian sectarian role in Iraq

Since occupation of Iraq in 2003, Iran was intended to penetrate inside the Iraqi society in a bid to make its interference in its political affairs a simultaneous matter so that no one can charge it with interference in affairs of a state has a sovereignty. After that, Iran kept alleging all what it was doing in Iraq was upon  request from the government in order that it can make Iraqi successive governments docile and thus easier to control. In this regard, Iran worked on triggering the doctrinal conflict in Iraq in a bid to guarantee the Shiite especially the revolutionist enthusiastic young people who suffer hard economic conditions in order to believe that their optimum choice is to join the  armed militia groups affiliated with political parties whose loyalty is primarily for the Iranian Supreme Leader.

Institutionalizing the sectarian identities in Iraq and arousing conflicts on the stature, limits and power of each sect affected the stability especially when legitimacy covered violent acts of some groups claiming that it represents its sects. Meanwhile, Iraqi basic reliance on the gas as a major income source increased such conflicts due to lack of a clear form of administration for such resources. These sectarian conflicts were accompanied with comprehensive polarization resulted from the increased power of the Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki with Iranian support, which enabled him to reinforce his power and marginalize the parliament and the independent institutions. Through such policy as well he could control the military and security systems and the judiciary, then, he could expand his political support circle against his rival and reinforce the Iranian power in Iraq. Although he aroused his criticizers’ worries, they didn’t make a move leaving the sectarian row.

In actual fact, occupying Iraq in 2003 represented a turning point in the Middle East and gave the political Shiite stream the chance to return to the political arena , in addition, it opened the door for the Iranian leverage, thus, Iranian allies in the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution and Failaq Badr impulsively returned to their state from the exile to become a part of the new political Iraqi reality. However, the Iraqi internal policies proved that they would be a complicated factor in the Iranian-Iraqi relations. While the council was doing its best to negate that idea suggests it was an agent for Iran, the council changed its name to be the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq and its religious leadership decreased its former commitments towards Khomeini approach, which resulted in a schism led by Hadi al-Amery who formed a new political body dubbed as Badr Organization and kept in a close ties with the Revolutionary Guard and Tehran. Then, this armed militia turned to be a tool in Iran’s hands affecting the Iraqi social reality after its size and leverages had been reinforced.  Side by side with the long lasted relations with Badr, the supreme council and the careful ties with prominent “Shiite” politicians, the Iranian power could get through the Iraqi social dynamism. These relations especially with the close copula between the supreme council and the armed factions made Iran an absolute sectarian player in Iraq.

After that, the Arab Spring broke out and the sectarian divisions in the Middle East aggravated due to the political turmoil that fanned its flames, which activated the Iranian policies and the revolutionary guard specifically in Iraq. This was followed by the ISIS that was outcropped to draw the continuing face of the sectarian conflicts in Iraq the same way Iran’s agents planned.

 

Establishment of several NGOs and cultural centers with Iranian trend

Since 2003 and due to the security vacuum Iraq was suffering in synchronization with the increasing Iranian political leverage, Iran sought to use the social factor as well through the Non-Governmental Organizations and the cultural centers that played an effective security and intelligence role in the Iraqi political arena. In view of its direct management by the Iranian intelligence, such organizations and centers became more problematic more than other public institutions due to the uncertainty of its acts beside its secret activities, but whatever the tools, forms and purposes were, these entities completely poured in the Iranian project in Iraq whose primary source was  the Islamic political Shiite parties including Daawa Party with its multiple wings, the Supreme Council, Badr forces, Hezbollah, Tha’ar Allah and other announced and secret organizations. This was stated by Hashemi Rafsanjani when he said “Tehran has reached all what it longed to in Iraq as its leadership is currently friends of Iran.”

Iran established number of institutions of several political faces in Iraq financially and managerially affiliated with Iran in the following way:

  • Imam Saggad Institution in Karbala
  • Imam Mahdi Constitution in Baghdad
  • Charity Projects Institution headquartered in Baghdad\ Gaderiya
  • Shahid al-Mehrab Institution headquartered in Baghdad\ Karrada
  • Al-Madina al-Monawara Institution headquartered in Baghdad and has branch in Basra
  • Al-Kawthar Institution headquartered in Baghdad
  • Al-Nakhil Institution headquartered in Baghdad and Basra
  • Al-Hogga Institution headquartered in Baghdad\ al-Kadhimiya
  • Barsian al-Kahdraa headquartered in Baghdad
  • Engineering Basra Institution headquartered in Baghdad
  • Al-Rafedin Institution for Tourism headquartered in Baghdad\ Madinet al-Sadr
  • Humane Islamic Dialogue Organization headquartered in Baghdad
  • Bank Mille Institution headquartered in Baghdad
  • Sabah Bank headquartered in Baghdad with branches in Najaf and Basra
  • Islamic Regional Bank for Development and Investment headquartered in Baghdad with branches in Najaf, Karbala, Basra and Sulaymanyiah
  • Al-Wesam Company headquartered in Baghdad
  • Al-Basira Institution headquartered in al-Amara, Maysan and Nasseriya

These institutions work under several social frames and indirectly or directly carry out the Iranian strategy, representing a serious tool drawing the Iranian project in Iraq due to its direct connection with the Iranian Intelligence. In other words, the Iranian strategy in Iraq has been built on bases of the Iranian Revolution doctrine and such entities are one of the important tools that execute such strategy side by side with the parties standing under the Iranian umbrella. What’s more, there are hundreds of key and subsidiary institutions in relation with Iran directly or indirectly and financed directly from the Iranian Intelligence and the Supreme Leader.

In addition, Iran worked on the establishment of many organizations and institutions in Iraq after occupation and the work of such bodies included all sides of Iraqi cases; humane, cultural, economic, social and enlightening. These institutions’ fields have been outlined as below,

  • Institutions to the young people such as the office helping the “Shiite” poor people in Iraq headquartered in Karbala and has branch in Najaf
  • Institutions with the face of the cultural activity such as Rouhullah institution headquartered in Maysan and its branches are located in Wasit and Waqar, Cultural Islamic alKhateeb Institution whose headquarter is located in Diyala, al-Imam al-Sadeq Institution headquartered in Baghdad and Nour al-Huda institution that promoting the Persian culture headquartered in Maysan and has branches in the center and the south.
  • Institutions of religious face such as Dar al-Quran institution headquartered in Baghdad whose branches are in the governorates of the center and the South.
  • Institutions under the cover of the humane work such as al-Imam Institution for Relief that has branches in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq, Endowments Institution headquartered in Baghdad which distribute religious books and food to the visitors, Ansar Fatima al-Zahraa Institution headquartered in Karbala with branches in Najaf and other governorates of the center and the south, cultural institution of Mezaffar headquartered in Basra and Humane Relief Institution helping the Faili Kurds.
  • Institutions financed from the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei such as Tawheed Institution headquartered in Baghdad with branches in the center and the south in addition to al-Rahma Institutions for the orphans headquartered in Baghdad.
  • Institutions with the cover of relief and serving the orphans such as the Mostada’feen Day headquartered in Najaf with branches in all governorates, Institution of Relieving Iraqi Orphans headquartered in Baghdad with branches in different Arab countries such as Syria and Lebanon and institution of Khomeini that works under the cover of helping the Iraqi orphans and widows headquartered in Karbala with branches in Najaf and other governorates in the center and the south.
  • Iranian institutions use the engineering and construction cover such as Ballan Institution headquartered in Baghdad, Engineering Basra Institution and al-Khamees Institution in Basra with branches in the center and the south specialized in the communication and information technology field.
  • Institutions of pilgrimage such as Iranian Haj and Visit Institution which is considered another face of the Iranian existence in Iraq headquartered in Karbala with branches in Najaf and in Syria to transport the Iranian visitors.

Above all, the Iranian embassy and its consulates in Iraq present the diplomatic cover for these institutions and organizations so as they can get their goal namely dominating the Iraqi society in a moment of vacuum resulted from the US occupation. In fact, the Iranian project synchronized with the US desire to devastate Iraq, fearing any future ramifications that may by any mean suggest Iraq’s return as a regional power, that moment, the Iranian regional dream project might be a fata morgana.

 

Exaltation of the Iranian figures stature in Iraq

After US had occupied Iraq in 2003, Iran sought to fully dominate the Iraqi political decision through its powers inside the state and through pushing number of political Islamic Shiite parties formed in Iran in the political process, but actually Iran’s procedures in this regard weren’t confined to controlling the political decision, but it sought after controlling the Iraqi society through its affiliated factions so that it can impose its culture and vision through number of procedures and manifestations.

Such manifestations and measurements were topped by deploying pictures of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and al-Khomeini in different public squares and streets in the Iraqi governorates in a bid to deliver a message aims at exalting the stature of these persons in the minds of the Iraqi people. Besides, they dubbed some public squares and streets on Iranian figures’ names and the Orouba Square in the Kadhimyia district of Baghdad was turned become Iranian Square. Iran also tried to uproot the original Iraqi history and civilization during the term of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki by removing some original Iraqi landmarks such as the arc of victory in the events square which embodies the Iraqi-Iranian war. This arc contains 5000 real helmets of Iranian soldiers and due to the public and political opposition, Nuri al-Maliki couldn’t carry out this scheme.  Moreover, pictures of al-Khamenei and al-Khomeini became familiar in Kirkuk definitely after the withdrawal of Kurdish Peshmerga after the repercussions of Kurdistan region referendum in Iraq on September 25, 2017, plus, it was formerly announced by religious and political figures in Basra the establishment of a memorial in the place where Khomeini washed in the district of Safwan on the Kuwaiti borders after he had been exiled from Iraq in 1987.

In addition to the foregoing and after the ISIS prominence in Iraq, the character of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani began to take wider space in the Iraqi media, especially in the Iranian satellites and radios in Iraq. Such focus on this character as a symbol for “Resistance and Jihad” reached to the extent that one of the IMIS leaders namely Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes announced that he was proud of being a soldier with Qassem Soleimani. Beside this figure comes the Iranian General Hamid Taqwa who was killed in battle of Tikrit liberalization from ISIS. One of the armed militia in which Iran leverage prevails in Iraq is Saraya el-Kharasni that was formed in 2013 in a response to Khamenei suggestion. It was responsible for the promotion billboards where the Iranian General Hamid Taqwa called Abi Mariam appeared. Hamid Taqwa to great extent became a champion for many fighters and Ali al-Yassery, Saraya el-Kharasni leader said about Taqwa “He was an expert in the turf wars”, “people was considering him a charming figure.”

When speaking about the doctrinal connection of number of armed militias affiliated with Iran, we will find that most of them are loyal to the Iranian references rather than the Iraqi ones, exactly like the case of Jund al-Imam, Lewa’a Ali al-Akbar, Islamic Labor Organization, Failaq el-Wa’ad, and others. All of such forces and groups take their orders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and move in accordance with military schemes outlined by it, in addition, most armed factions in the Iraqi arena wear the same uniform of the Iranian Failaq al-Quds. This was evidenced by the military demo performed by the armed forces leadership on the occasion of liberalization of Mosul city from the grip of ISIS on July 15, 2011 where number of factions participated such as Sayyed al-Shuhadaa who appeared in a way was to great extent similar to the Iranian Failaq al-Kuds in terms of uniform, demo technique and walking in front of the Prime Minister, which outraged large number of citizens.

Promoting the Iranian cultural model

The Iranian endeavors to promote the Iranian culture model in the Iraqi society represent the Iranian strategy that sought to put its cornerstones short time after the US occupation to Iraq. In fact, Iran exerted in this regard much efforts as Iranian culture minister Mohamed Husseini affirmed that Tehran was ready to establish a center in Iraq “Introducing Iran” and to organize training courses teaching the Persian language in Iraq adding in his interview with former Iraqi Education Minister Ali al-Adeeb “Iran is willing to send Iranian professors to Iraq in order to teach the Persian language in training courses for those willing to engage and to the Iraqi professors,” asserting that Tehran announced its willingness to establish a center introducing Iran to Iraq.

Dozens of Iranian schools are deployed in many Arab and Islamic states in a bid to publish the Persian culture and to solidify the cultural belonging and pertinence to Iran in addition to recruiting some people to support the Mullahs in order to represent Iran in their countries and mostly to be agents for the Iranian intelligence. Actually, Iraq won the lion share of the Iranian schools as there are fourteen schools in governorates of the center and south where the Iranian curriculums are taught. In June 2013, Iranian consul Hamid Reda Mohktar Abady  in Basra announced the soon opening of the first Iranian school officially in the governorate for primary, middle and preparatory stages adding those schools were for free and weren’t confined to the Iranian students, besides, it would teach the Persian language.

In 2014, former governor of Ninawa, Atheel al-Nejify closed an Iranian school named “al-Khomeini” in Khazana countryside, eastern Mosul, which aroused arguments around the Iranian scheme to penetrate the second larger governorate in Iraq culturally; however, it has been reopened after liberalization of the city from the dominance of ISIS on September 14, 2017. Actually, such attempt to topple the Iranian scheme of publishing the Persian culture was too late as in 2011 and in an unprecedented step in Dayali governorate of Arab majority, Iran inaugurated a school as a present from the Iranian people in Kadaa al-Khales, when the former Iranian ambassador to Iran Hassan Danabi Far said “Inaugurating this scientific and intellectual edifice is a cordial message for the Iraqi people from the Islamic Iranian Republic. This school is a present to the Iraqi Education Ministry and considered the eleventh Iranian school in Iraq and we are looking forward to other schools and projects in Iraq.” According to statistics, number of Iranian schools established out of Iran reached 135 in 2011 in more than 80 states and currently ten centers in Iraq and Afghanistan are being developed in addition to distance learning units, so number of schools out of Iran has reached 155 according to the Iranian curriculums.

In Baghdad, the Iranian Culture Center has been inaugurated in synchronize with the commencement of the Persian language course to the Iraqi employees and the course of short movies script writing for the Iraqi young people. Program courses of teaching the Persian language varied to adapt the three stages of primary, preparatory and higher education. The center established in the university in al-Gaderryia included educational classes implied a hall for movies show, a section and a room for studying the Iranian affairs. The Iranian cultural center shows films in the Iraqi capital, organizes different educational courses related to the Persian language, script writing, short films directory, drawing and artistic writing, cartoons and supervises the meetings and scientific seminars.

In this context, the Iraqi High Education and Scientific Research Minister in the transitional government Taher Khalaf expressed about his worries due to the Iranian efforts that began to fruit saying “In Basra, there is something happening… some students and professors see the Iranian model an excerpt worthy model”

While some people believe such Iranian endeavors a way to create a type of a political ideology inside the university campus like what happened in Iran after the revolution, some others believe it is an attempt defend tasks of the IMIS. In this respect, the exhortation launched by the secretary general of Asaib Ahlu al-Haq Qais al-Khozaaly on March 18, 2017 which included the establishment of “university mobilization” where he warned from a new scenario were planned to exile the mobilization from the arena had been differently interpreted from different Iraqi social classes. About cloning the Iranian experiment in the Iraqi university, Karim al-Nouri, spokesperson of the IMIS said “what is being done by the IMIS in relevant to the cultural revolution is too different than the Iranian experiment and such difference is due to the pluralistic civil trait of the Iraqi state while Iran is a state led by the Faqih Jurisdiction and it is a religious state, which means that the discourse differs from Iraq to Iran.”

In May 29, 2017, Iranian ambassador Iraj Masjady met Iraqi Culture Minister Feryad Roundouzi and they discussed the consensus over deepening the cultural relation between both countries. The Iranian ambassador said then that the coming stage would witness increased expansion in the relations of both states in cultural fields until reaching the targeted level. He also affirmed the necessity of effectuating the cultural protocols signed between both sides last years.

Addendum to the above, Iraqi Education Minister Abdelrazek al-Eissa held a meeting with the Iranian Cultural Advisor in Iraq Gholam Reda Abazry where they agreed upon expanding the education seats related to the Persian language courses in the Iraqi universities. In return, the Iranian cultural advisor called for facilitating the attendance of the Iraqi students to the Iranian universities and to organize Persian language courses in all governorates especially the southern ones. He also underlined the importance of scientific and university ties to develop the cultural communication between the Iranian and Iraqi people.

In order to transfer the Iranian cinema experiment to Iraq, the cinema and theatre circle affiliated to the Iraqi cultural ministry, announced in April 28, 2017 that it would organize a week for Iranian films in Baghdad as the head of media circle Zeinab al-Qassab said in a statement “The week of the Iranian films will start on the national theatre hall in Baghdad” adding “the visit of the cultural ties official in the Iranian embassy and the head of Iranian radios and TVs to the cinema and theater circle came to effectuate the agreement ideally formulated clauses between both Iraqi and Iranian culture minister in 2013.” Thus, the Iranian endeavors to consolidate the cultural and historical ties between Iraq and Iran didn’t leave the statements and speeches of Iranian political leaders. Statements of Ali Younesi, Iranian President Advisor in addition to statements of President Rouhani himself, Iranian Supreme Leader and Generals of Iranian Revolutionary Guard target the integration of the Iraqi cultural and social identity in Iranian historical and cultural vessel.

Conclusion

The cultural entrance has always formed a vivid case in the states’ strategies and goals. Iran in turn didn’t deviate from such rule, rather, it gave it a strong push in order to achieve supreme goals on the long term and the huge budgets Iranian government allocates for its political and military efforts stand as evidence to the cultural dimension in the Iranian policy. Reading the Iranian culture role in Iraq according to what all stated above strongly points to the Iranian desire to embrace the entire Iraqi case and to impose the Iranian trait on it in a bid to reach finally to a social and cultural ideology serve its project in Iraq and the region. Clearly, Iran realizes well the importance of embracing the Iraqi arena and the necessity of seeking mixing the cultural reality with Iraq to detach it from its civilizational and cultural deepness especially because the Iraqi culture and civilization itself is attendant in the Iranian politician mind who has always looking to it as a sort of challenge to the Iranian civilization, therefore, it was necessary for him not allowing the independence of such civilization and to seek for mixing the Iranian culture with the Iraqi one.

 

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