iran, iraq and ghormeh sabzi

it is widely recognized that when the americans were preparing their own quagmire in iraq, they had little notion of just how much they would elevate iran’s power in the region. it still baffles us to think that they actually invaded without an exit strategy. a little like sleepwalking into a war. presumably because it’s just what they do…

that the iranian-iraqi cultural, political and economic relations go back some millennia is common knowledge to most observers [1]. our shared heritage extends beyond being the only two countries in the world with a shia majority, but also includes ghorme sabzi!

i learned about this through an iraqi friend in manchester in the mid-1980s, in the middle of the iran-iraq war. i remember being quite puzzled by her on that day. she worked in some down and out fish & chips take away stall in the main square. covered by the stench and fumes of hot oil that seeped into our clothes, hair, skin and lungs, she started by praising the iranians for not attacking civilian areas [2], and went on to tell me about all the things we shared. like ghormeh sabzi.

i think that was the first moment when i realised that i – as a ‘west-residing groupie of’ western propaganda – was missing one side of the story in that war: the iranian side.

propaganda is powerful. it actually makes you believe that Not listening to one side of the story is the ‘objective’ or ‘clever’ thing to do. all you had to do was say ‘mullah’ and some anger hormone would be released straight into my brain.

but here was an iraqi shia exile at a nauseating mancunian fish and chip shop telling an iranian exile that the mullahs were righteous in the war between two countries.

of course there is no real analysis in this. but the analysis only matters in relation to how we view each other.

her warmth and friendly approach had taken me by surprise. i walked away stinking of over-heated cooking oil, but felt quite refreshed by the warmth of a gracious ‘enemy’ who had opened my eyes to something quite important about my own country and my own mindset.

of course i never really admitted all that to her. i was too ‘proud’ for that. easier to do it 25 years later, anonymously!


1. except for diehard anti-semites among us intent on denying any links between ‘aryans’ and ‘arabs’.

2. compare this with saddam’s regular use of missiles targeted at civilians and use of chemical weapons, including on iraqi civilians.


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