A billboard depicting the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was erected recently on the edge of Baghdad’s Firdaus Square. (Liz Sly/ The Washington Post)
Perhaps nothing illuminates more starkly the transformation underway in Iraq than the billboard depicting the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini erected recently on the edge of Baghdad’s Firdaus Square. The portrait obscures the view of the plinth where a giant statue of Saddam Hussein once stood, until U.S. Marines pulled it down in 2003.
The 2003 event was a profoundly symbolic moment that seemed to capture the swift triumph of American troops over Hussein’s crumbling army. It also signaled the start of Iraq’s steady drift into the orbit of Iranian influence, a trend that has accelerated dramatically since the surge into northern Iraq by the Islamic State last summer.
The billboard is one of many put up around the streets of Baghdad advertising the multiple Shiite militias that have emerged to battle the Islamic State, many of them with support from Iran. This one advertises the Resurrection of Hussein Brigade, a newly formed group that Iraqis say was directly created by Iran. It also features the portrait of Iran’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Khomeini’s successor.
In the background is the Palestine Hotel, where many of the journalists who covered the U.S. invasion stayed, and where U.S. Marines set up one of their first offices…