In the weeks prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Johns Hopkins Professor and noted Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami wrote that a free Iraq might have a profound impact on neighboring Iran:
It is in the nature of things today, in an Iranian society deeply divided between those who would bury the revolution and join the world, and others hell-bent on keeping the theocracy, and their own dominion, intact, that the American drive against Iraq would be defined by that chasm. For those who want to normalize Iran, the thunder of war against Iraq is the coming of a blessed rain. The Americans would be nearby, but what of it? Liberty is rarely a foreigner’s gift, and no American war in Iran’s neighborhood will settle the fight between theocratic zealots and those in Iran who have twice, in presidential elections, cast their votes for a reform that never came. But the “contagion effect” of a liberated Iraq will no doubt have a role to play in the fight for Iran’s future. In Persia, there will be multitudes hoping that the foreigner’s storm will be mighty enough to clear their foul sky.
In light of the protests by hundreds of thousands of Iranians over election fraud and in favor of reform, one has to wonder whether Ajami’s prophecy has come true. While I have not seen reports of protesters shouting “Iraq is free and so should we,” one would not expect such a direct correlation.
Nonetheless, the effects of a free Iraq, in which there is a multitude of competing parties and widespread economic freedom, must be great on the Iranians. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Iranians visit Iraq annually. Iraq has maintained a Shiite Islamic character for the most part without the repressive policies of Iran.
While Iraq still is subjected to violence, the contrast between the direction Iraq is moving, and the stagnant Iran, could not be more clear, and must not be lost on Iranians in the streets.