Anger towards Iran has been one of the hallmarks of the anti-government protests that have been raging in Iraq since October.
Along with anti-Iran chants and the torching of the Iranian consulate in the cities of Karbala and Najaf, Iraqi people have kicked off a campaign to boycott Iranian products.
A wide segment of people and wholesalers have reported a significant drop in the purchase of Iranian goods. Billboards have gone up in Baghdad and central and southern provinces, promoting dairy goods at very low prices as a result of the people’s boycott.
Ahmed al-Akili, a business owner in Baghdad, said that wholesalers in the Jamila region have pleaded with retailers to buy Iranian products at very low costs because they fear they would reach their expiry dates before being put on the market.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat that wholesalers have even offered products, which are nearing their expiry date, for free just to get rid if them.
“They are often met with rejection because retailers are unsure that they would be sold before they expire,” he added.
“Iranian goods are piling up at wholesalers. This does not mean that everyone is boycotting these products,” he said, noting the goods from Iran are cheaper than those from Turkey and the Arab Gulf.
Activists and civilians kicked off in early November a wide boycott campaign of Iranian goods, under the hashtag “let them rot.” The movement came in response to accusations by some Iranian clerics and leaders that the Iraq protests were receiving foreign funding
A food wholesaler in Baghdad, Abou Mortada, revealed that a large number of Iraqis have boycotted Iranian products, “but we must not exaggerate.”
“Some poor families still buy the cheap Iranian products,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat. “The boycott centers mainly in the rich neighborhoods of Baghdad and other regions.”
What is significant, however, is that Shiites are the ones taking the initiative in the boycott campaign, he remarked, explaining that in the past such movements were usually limited to Sunni regions.
Observers have also attributed the drop in the purchase of Iranian goods to the closure of some Iraqi-Iranian border crossings. This has led to an unprecedented drop in trade.
Several Iraqis hold local authorities responsible for their country’s deteriorating economy and industrial sector, saying the trade balance leans heavily in Tehran’s favor and unfairly against Iraq.
On Thursday, demonstrators stormed and torched the Iranian consulate in Najaf. Security forces shot dead at least 45 protesters in response.
Video of protesters cheering in the night as flames billowed from the consulate were a stunning image after years in which Tehran’s influence among Shiites in Arab states has been a defining factor in Middle East politics.
The uprising erupted in Iraq in October with anti-corruption demonstrations that swelled into a revolt against authorities seen by young demonstrators as stooges of Tehran. The protesters, overwhelmingly Shiite, accused the Iraqi authorities of turning against their own people to defend Iran.
Hundreds of protesters have been killed as the security forces sought to crack down on the rallies.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced Friday that he would be resigning, a move welcomed in the streets, but unlikely to end the rallies with the protesters demanding the overhaul of the entire political class.
The current political class is drawn mainly from powerful Shiite politicians, clerics and paramilitary leaders including many who lived in exile before a US-led invasion overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003 - including Abdul Mahdi.