Iran continues to monitor closely and “with great sensitivity” the demonstrations in Iraq and the increasing calls for the cessation of Iranian involvement in Iraq, demanded in the latest round of protests. As expected, the Iranian foreign ministry is pointing a finger at “certain groups” who are exploiting the legitimate calls of the Iraqi people to change and improve living conditions. Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said he was confident that the Iraqi government and the country’s Shiite religious leadership could overcome the obstacles to move Iraq forward with unity. Mousavi emphasized, “Iran has always supported the government and the Iraqi people and helped them in times of crisis through friendship and good neighborliness.”
Iran’s state media – The Islamic Republic of Iran News Network (IRINN) and Radio Iran – reported that foreign influences were behind the riots and reported that Iraq temporarily suspended Saudi television broadcasts of Al-Hadath and Al-Arabiya after they took “provocative measures” like quoting Shiite militant Hadi al-Amari, who claimed that both Israel and the United States are inciting the protesters. Also, Qais Khazali, who heads the pro-Iranian Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq militia, blamed Israel for the situation in Iraq.2
Iranian media also refrained from reporting the burning of Iranian flags at the Iranian consulate in Karbala. Hundreds of protesters surrounded the consulate building with the cries of “Iran, Get Out, Get Out from Iraq … Baghdad Will Remain Free.” They burned Iranian flags and caused heavy damage to the consulate building.4 The protesters also trampled on the pictures of Al-Quds force commander Qasem Soleimani (a grave insult in the Arab world).5 The Iranian consulate building in the port city of Basra was also set ablaze despite attempts by Shi’ite militias to protect it. With cries of “Stop the Persian Occupation of Arab Iraq,” the protestors set ablaze the building.6
In Arab social networks, the use of the term “Intifada” also trended during the protest in Lebanon, during which there were also sporadic calls to reduce Iranian involvement in the country through Hizbullah. In this context, Nasrallah’s acknowledgment of Iranian aid in weapons, funding, food, and more (“As long as Iran has money, we have money”) has drawn criticism on social networks. The statement portrays Nasrallah as an Iranian agent and as “working for the Iranians.”7
Iraqi cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr visited Iran on September 11, 2019, for Ashura Day commemoration with Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei. Al-Sadr is the leader of the Iraqi Sadrist Shiite branch and is considered a special political-religious figure. He met with the Iranian leader and Al-Quds force commander, Qasem Soleimani, and other senior officials. Al-Sadr warned several times before his visit of the harm of Iran’s escalating involvement through the pro-Iranian Shiite militias in Iraq and converting Iraq to a front in Iran’s regional efforts.
According to him, Iran’s involvement has caused negative reactions against Iraq, which has become a target for retaliatory action by Iran’s rivals. Iraq pays with “the blood of its citizens” because of Iranian activities.
It is unclear what the outcome of al-Sadr’s visit to Iran was, but it appears that Iran will not give up Iraq as its base for its regional activities, primarily against Israel and Saudi Arabia, given the difficulties Iran encountered in its operations in Syria.
The developments expected in both Iraq and Lebanon and especially the blaming of Iran as one the causes for both countries’ dire conditions poses a major challenge to the regime in Iran, which is perceived by civilians on the “Arab Street” as a cause of conflict and pushing sectarianism for Iranian gain.
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