Thousands of signs can be seen depicting Iran’s supreme leader gently smiling on a population once mobilized against the Islamic republic in eight years of war.
The campaign underscores widespread doubts about just how independent Iraq and its majority Shiite Muslim population can remain from its eastern neighbor, the region’s Shiite heavyweight, now that U.S. troops have left the country.
The posters of Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei first appeared in at least six Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad and across Iraq’s Shiite-dominated south in August as part of an annual pro-Palestinian observance started years ago by Iran. They have conspicuously remained up since then.
In Basra, located 340 miles south of the capital, the pictures hang near donation boxes decorated with scripts in both countries’ languages — Arabic and Farsi.
A senior official in Baghdad’s local government said municipal workers fear retribution from Shiite militias loyal to Iran in if they take them down. He spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concerns for his safety.
One such militia, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, even boasted that it launched the poster campaign, part of a trend that’s chipping away at nearly a decade’s worth of U.S.-led efforts to bring a Western-style democracy here.
Economic, religious ties
Sheik Ali al-Zaidi, a senior official in the militia, said it distributed an estimated 20,000 posters of Ayatollah Khamenei across Iraq. He said the ayatollah “enjoys public support all over the world” including Iraq, where he “is hailed as a political and religious leader.”
Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or Band of the People of Righteousness, carried out deadly attacks against U.S. troops before their withdrawal last year. This month, the group threatened U.S. interests in Iraq as part of the backlash over an Internet film mocking the Prophet Muhammad.
Iraqi and U.S. intelligence officials have estimated that Iran sends the militia about $5 million in cash and weapons each month. The officials believe there are fewer than 1,000 Asaib Ahl al-Haq militiamen, and that their leaders live in Iran.View Entire Story
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