Russia’s airstrike campaign in Syria has made President Vladimir Putin the subject of reverent songs, images and videos among Iraq’s Shiite majority.
A Photoshopped image of Putin in the robes of a tribal sheikh is making the rounds on the Iraqi internet, reported The New York Times — along with a video juxtaposing footage of Putin with an Iraqi patriotic song.
Forget about Haji Qasim & Iran. Abu Ali has been spotted in Iraq. pic.twitter.com/NLwDbjuVKW
— Hayder al-Khoei (@Hayder_alKhoei) October 6, 2015
In one shot, Putin is shown sitting down alongside Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. Arabic-language hashtags including #DecisivePutin, #PutinCrushesISIS and #PutinInControl (playing on the title of a “Punk’d”-style prank television show) have popped up on Twitter. Other videos circulating among pro-government Syrians and Iraqis include an Arabic subtitled version of Russia’s 2002 pop hit “A Man Like Putin” and a montage of Putin-ish masculinity to the tune of a 2014 English rap single, “I Go Hard Like Vladimir Putin.” (RELATED: 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Russian Propaganda)
Iran is a key ally of the governments in both Iraq and Syria. As the Russian airstrikes in Syria continue, it is becoming increasingly clear that rather than his stated goal of targeting Islamic State fighters, Putin’s chief priority in the country is bolstering the regime of President Bashar Assad. Alleged billboards in Syria testify to the strength of Putin’s commitment, depicting him alongside Assad, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The caption here reads, “Men who do not kneel to anyone but God.”
But in Iraq, the Shiite majority does not see any outside force to rescue it from Islamic State — besides semiofficial militias that are explicitly backed by Iran’s government. In the Shiites’ view, part of Islamic State’s success is local Sunnis in territory it controls prefers the terrorists’ rule to that of the Shiites in Baghdad. This mistrust has extended to the military itself, which has struggled to preserve credibility among Sunni recruits. (RELATED: Doomed Iraqi Soldiers Among Europe’s Migrant Flood)
So many Iraqi Shiites openly welcome Putin’s incursion: one Shiite parliamentarian told the Times that Shiites “feel Russia is more serious than the United States.”
In response, Iraq’s Sunnis seem to have devised a meme of their own: taking their Shiite neighbors’ reverence for Putin to the next level, and depicting him as a legendary warrior alongside Hussein, one of the most important historical figures for Shiites. An online rumor among Iraqi Shiites in recent weeks apparently claims that one of Putin’s ancestors was a Christian fighter who backed Hussein at the crucial Battle of Karbala.
— مصطفى كامل #الأقصى (@mustafakamilm) October 7, 2015
Iraq’s Shiite-led government has already signed intelligence-sharing agreements with Russia, and allowed Russian military supplies to pass through its airspace.
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