The mausoleum of Hussein Ibn Ali, the third Imam of Shiism, in Karbala will soon have a new gate. It took dozens of Iranian artisans several years to make the gate that, according to experts, is a masterpiece of Persian handicraft.
At first glance, there is nothing remarkable in that news item carried by Iranian media last week. After all, the mausoleum, like other Shiite places of pilgrimage in Iraq, was built by Iranians and maintained by their donations for centuries.
What is remarkable is that the Iran's state-owned media have chosen to present the report in the section devoted to "domestic news." The official news agency, IRNA, carried the item in its section of "news from the provinces."
Karbala, however, is located in Iraq, a country that, although a neighbor of Iran, has been an independent state for almost 90 years.
It is clear that many within Iran's ruling elite have difficulty acknowledging that fact. To them, concepts like national sovereignty have little meaning.
Official mullahs, such as Ahmad Khatami, a preacher at the Friday prayers at Tehran University, pretend to have never heard the word "Iraq." To them, Iraq is either "Bayn al-Nahrayn" (Mesopotamia) or "Atabat al-Aliyat" (The Holy shrines). Apparently, even the war that lasted eight years and left a million dead has not convinced them that Iraq is a sovereign state.
Dominating Iraq has been an ambition of Iranian elites since the Ottomans drove Persia out in 1797, after the death of Karim Khan Zand.
After the First World War and the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, the Shiite clergy tried to persuade the Qajar Shah in Tehran to annex the "holy" cities of Iraq. However, the Qajars, on their way to the graveyard of history, were in no position to dream of conquest.
Once it became clear that Iraq would become independent with British support, the clergy decided to boycott the process and kept Iraqi Shiites on the sidelines.
By the 1940s, the Iranian elite had more or less accepted independent Iraq as a fact.
In the 1950s, an attempt to link the two countries through royal marriage, however, failed, when the Shah's daughter, Princess Shahnaz, and Iraq's King Faisal failed to develop enough chemistry for the plot to proceed.