It's well-known that Iraq is the origin and base of Shiite authority in the Middle East. It was first Baghdad then Najaf, and this lasted for centuries. Iran's Qom however did not emerge as a religious center until the first quarter of the 20th Century, and it did not emerge as a reference for Shiites until the Iranian revolution erupted and the mullahs seized power in Tehran. In other words, Arabs, and not the Persians, have throughout history been the leaders and references of the Shiite sect. After the Iranian revolution, Iran worked on a strategy to market itself as a leader and embracer of Shiites across the world, particularly within its geographic surroundings. It assigned itself as defender of the Shiites to the extent that it included an item in the constitution that stipulates defending what Tehran calls "the vulnerable," a term that means Shiite and Shiism but with an embellished touch.
Through its "umm al-qura" (mother of villages) theory, Iran has sought to replace the capital of the Islamic world, Makkah, with Qom. But Iran miserably failed, so it worked on turning Qom into the capital of the Shiite sect and thus replacing Najaf. It worked on attracting some Arab Shiite clerics and provided support through seminaries which are taught in Arabic in that small city. It also offered scholarships to Shiite youths, of whom many were recruited in Iran and returned home to become part of Iran's cells in the Arab world. This is how Iran’s Velayat-e Faqih ideology and principles, which are characterized with an extremist Persian touch, were exported to Shiite communities in the Arab world. However, Iran's major aim will not just be achieved by focusing on Qom and making it stand out. Iran has reached a conviction that it won't achieve its aims unless by marginalizing and weakening the Arab Shiite authority in the region. It has therefore resorted to using the carrot and stick approach and demonizing its rivals, fabricating accusations against them or assassinating them. It has also warned of certain Shiite figures who are well-aware of the Iranian project which does not care about the Shiite sect itself as much as it cares about possessing all the means to achieve its nationalistic and political aims in the region. Among these Shiite symbols that were targeted or marginalized in Iraq and Lebanon are al-Hasani, al-Waeli, al-Khoei, al-Sarkhi, al-Husseini, al-Amin and others.
Will Arab Shiites liberate the Shiite sect from Iran’s grip?Mohammad al-Sulami