As the U.S. draws down its forces in Iraq, fears abound that Iran will move into the vacuum, but in Najaf, a center of Shiite Islam in Iraq, some officials say that Iran wore out its welcome long ago. Surely, Iran has emerged empowered in Iraq over the last eight years, and it has a sympathetic Shiite-dominated government to show for it. But with mistrust toward Iranians that has been nurtured for centuries, Iran has been unable to extend its reach.
In fact, a host of countries led by Turkey, but also China, Lebanon and Kuwait, have made the biggest inroads. „Before 2003, 90% of Najaf people liked Iranians,“ said the governor, Adnan al-Zurufi. „Now, 90% hate them. Iran likes to take, not give.“ „Investment from Iran has almost stopped,“ said Zuheir Sharba, the chairman of Najaf’s provincial council, referring to a phenomenon that has more to do with Iran’s anemic state-run economy than it does to Iranian ambitions.