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A stunning shift of Iran's image in the Arab world

A poll shows Iran's popularity in dramatic decline in several Middle Eastern countries, possibly an indication of the domestically driven political change sweeping across the region.

By Staff writer / September 7, 2011

Pollster James Zogby surveyed Arab public opinion about Iran in June, and released his findings at the end of July. I glanced at the poll when it came out, intended to write something about it and then forgot about it.

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It came to mind again today because of a small piece I wrote about Iraq this morning, in which I included a statement from senators Joe Lieberman, John McCain, and Lindsay Graham predicting that Iran's influence in Iraq will skyrocket in response to a withdrawal of most US troops from that country (which looks increasingly likely). I also came across a story in the Wall Street Journal yesterday which, citing unnamed officials, says US officers are seeking authority to conduct "covert operations to thwart Iranian influence" in Iraq.

What Mr. Zogby found was a stunning reversal in Iran's general popularity among six Arab nations of the region. Five years ago, Iran and Hezbollah – the Shiite militant group that has become a major political power in Lebanon – were on a high, symbols of resistance to the US and foreign occupation in the region. But with the US drawdown in Iraq, the domestically driven political change sweeping countries like Egypt and Libya, and Iran's own brutality against domestic democracy activists, Iran's ability to exert soft power in the region has clearly taken a beating.


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