By Arab News
By Baria Alamuddin*
After decades during which Gulf Arabs rarely visited Iraq, there has been great excitement this month about Iraq hosting football’s Arabian Gulf Cup for the first time since 1979. Nevertheless, those on Iran’s payroll are desperate to sabotage Iraq’s relationship with its Arab brothers at all costs. This was on show for all to see at the tournament’s opening ceremony in Basra, when an ugly altercation caused the departure of the Kuwaiti delegation, along with other GCC delegations and nationals.
Tehran’s theocrats were particularly incensed by Prime Minister Mohammad Shia Al-Sudani welcoming “Arab guests from the countries of the Arabian Gulf,” because they were under the impression that he had been appointed by their Iraqi puppets as part of Iran’s “Persian Gulf” expansion project. Furthermore, Sudani’s participation in last month’s Arab-China summit in Riyadh, and December’s Jordan-hosted Baghdad Conference, were widely interpreted (rightly or wrongly) as a gesture of intent to improve ties with Arab states.
Iran has strived to detach nations such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen from their Arab roots and culture, and convert them into inanimate Persian satellite failed states. Although this project is doomed to fail, and these basket case appendages will scarcely outlast the soon-to-collapse ayatollahs’ regime, such hostile policies have wreaked chaos, mass slaughter, sectarian cleansing and crimes against humanity upon these long-suffering Arab states.
Esam Hussein, a leading official from the Shiite Sadrist movement (an entity that Tehran previously sought to co-opt) condemned Iran’s inflammatory responses to Iraqi officials having dared even to utter the name “Arabian Gulf.” He said: “Iran is very disturbed by the closeness between the Iraqis and peoples of the Arab Gulf states. Iran does not want this rapprochement, for fear of a future increase in tourist trips and development of economic and investment ties.”
In fact, the Arabian Gulf Cup has been thus named since it was first played in 1970. Tehran raises the issue only because it sees Iraq as its private fiefdom and thinks Baghdad’s leaders can be humiliatingly bullied at every opportunity. Curiously, Iran (which habitually questions the legitimacy of Western “colonial powers”), in its fantasies about a “Persian Gulf,” takes colonial-era documents as unquestionable gospel. It even insists on referring to Arabian Peninsula nations as “Persian Gulf states,” as if they somehow exist under Iranian hegemony. This assertion is particularly pernicious given occasional illegal claims that Bahrain and other Gulf islands and territories belong to the Islamic Republic.
The Arabian Gulf throughout history has been an Arab lake. Over recent centuries, the territories along the eastern coast of the Gulf — isolated from inland Persia by the Zagros mountains — were mostly occupied by seafaring Arab tribes and self-governing Arab statelets. The Hawala Arabs are among the best-known inhabitants of this coastline; many of them later established themselves in Arab states, fleeing persecution from the Shah’s regime and the Islamic Republic.
Tehran’s Iraqi proxies have hilariously tied themselves in knots over the “Arabian Gulf” issue, with some staying silent altogether for fear of angering their Iranian masters. Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi leaders such as Qais Al-Khazali have spent years fighting against Iraq’s Arab identity, including campaigns to chase away investment from Arab Gulf states. One Hashd official ludicrously suggested renaming the region the “Gulf of Basra,” such is their hatred of any mention of the Arab blood running through their veins. That would hardly be likely to placate the ayatollahs, who see the entire region — and perhaps the planet — as belonging to them.
For decades Tehran disdainfully treated Shiite communities throughout the Arab world as demographics under its theological hegemony, who should obey its every command. Yet these efforts to enforce loyalty have failed miserably because Shiite Arabs have seen enough to know that Tehran disregards their interests and views them as second-class citizens. Arab pilgrims to Qom who were spat on, had travel documents stamped upon, or were kidnapped for ransom, bear ample testimony of routine racism. Shiite businessmen have been financially ruined by the flood of cut-price Iranian goods dumped in their markets. They see how those on Iran’s payroll have sold out their homelands to the devil.
Persia is one of the world’s oldest and richest cultures, manifested in poetry, art, architecture, science and philosophy. Classical Islamic civilization is an inseparable synthesis of the best of Arab and Persian cultures, but the barbaric theocratic regime in Tehran has no cultural riches to export — only missiles to strike peace-loving Gulf states, proxy armies to dominate Arab nations, drugs to pollute the minds of the region’s youth, and ceaseless efforts to suffocate the region’s enlightened and diverse heritage with their monolithic culture of death.
Sudani’s crusade against corruption in Iraq has run head-on into these Iranian aspirations for regional hegemony. Corruption mushroomed under Nouri Al-Maliki from 2006 to 2014, when up to $1 trillion may have been stolen, including massive transfers to Iran and huge investment in Tehran-backed paramilitary forces. In consequence of such corrupt dealings, Iraq now faces a currency crisis after the US halted dollar transfers to 14 Iraqi banks, seeking to prevent tens of billions of dollars being transferred to Iran. Muthanna Amin, a member of the Iraqi parliament, has claimed that Sudani himself handed Iran $4 billion during his latest trip to Tehran. Hashd warlords play a major role in these transfers through shell companies and planeloads of cash delivered to their Tehran paymasters.
Iran executed former regime official Alireza Akbari last week for no other conceivable “crime” than being a British dual-national — just as countless other dual nationals and foreign nationals have been rounded up and given arbitrary jail sentences as hostages in pursuit of diplomatic trade-offs. With their softly-softly approach toward hostage-takers, Western states exacerbate these mafioso foreign policies. When Britain hands Iran $400 million in exchange for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, are they surprised when the regime rushes to detain a crop of new victims? This is the same regime that murdered Mahsa Amini and thousands other innocent young people. Enough of these meaningless statements of condemnation. Western nations must treat Iran’s leaders like the criminals and mass murderers they are.
The Arabian Gulf Cup put two Iraqs on display: One is passionate about welcoming back Arab and Gulf states with open arms, but the dark side of Iraq is perfectly encapsulated by Basra — the city of militia corruption, targeted killings, a narcotics pandemic, environmental meltdown, and rampant poverty. That is why Basra has been the crucible of successive outbreaks of mass protests against corrupt Iranian hegemony.
Tehran’s tantrums over the triviality of the naming of a football tournament highlight the regime’s weakness and inferiority. The ayatollahs know they are doomed, and their own citizens can’t wait to be rid of this scourge. Is it then any surprise that the people of Basra, Beirut, Sanaa and Damascus are hungry to re-embrace their Arab identity?
Iran’s disciples fear that once the Arabian Gulf Cup has whetted Basra citizens’ appetite for Arab unity, Arab Iraqis will be inspired to fling open their doors to fruitful renewed relationships with their Arab sisters and brothers.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.