Mass protests in Iraq rattle Iran and proxies

Many Iraqi protesters expressed discontent with militia leaders and politicians who are openly — or perceived to be — backed by Tehran.
Saturday 05/10/2019
A demonstrator takes part in street protests in Baghdad, October 2. (Reuters)
Freedom chants. A demonstrator takes part in street protests in Baghdad, October 2. (Reuters)

LONDON - Mass anti-government demonstrations calling for an end to state corruption, improvement of basic services and access to job opportunities in Iraq appear to have rattled Iran and its Iraqi proxies.

While calling for the dismissal of the government in Baghdad, many protesters expressed discontent with militia leaders and politicians who are openly — or perceived to be — backed by Tehran.

Anti-corruption protests were coupled with expressions of resentment of Iranian encroachment in Iraq. Protesters chanted: “Baghdad is free, free. Iran get out, out.”

Nearly 100 people were reported killed since protests began October 1. Aside from Baghdad, all areas that witnessed large demonstrations were in Iraq’s southern Shia-majority provinces.

Observers said hostility towards Iranian meddling in Iraq had increased in those areas in the past few years, especially after the defeat of the Islamic State as people had to deal with poor living conditions in times of relative peace.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry advised its pilgrims who are "intending to travel to Iraq [for Arbaeen, which begins October 19] to delay their journeys until conditions ease in the country". An estimated 1.8 million Iranians took part in the Arbaeen pilgrimage to Iraq last year.

Senior Iranian clerics and state-sanctioned media in Iran accused the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia of being behind the Iraqi protests.

Increasing signs of Iraqis’ rejection of subservience to Iran seems to have pushed Tehran towards a more aggressive posture in terms of its options in Iraq. During the unrest, it became more vocal about its willingness to use Iraqi territory to strike at Washington’s interests if the United States attacked Iran.

On October 3, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry summoned Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad Iraj Masjedi to denounce comments he made on Iraq’s Dijlah TV that Iran would “strike back anywhere, including (in) Iraq,” in retaliation for a US attack against Tehran.

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