By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
A wave of statements against the US by allies of the Popular Mobilitzation Units, Hadi al-Amiri and Iran portray the protests in Iraq, in which 200 have been killed, as an America conspiracy. This has culminated in new threats against Al-Hurra, a television station linked to the US, and increasing threats to take “revenge” on protesters and others. This comes after almost a month of protests in which paramilitary snipers were used to suppress dissent. Since October 25 a new round of protests has erupted in which partiers linked to Iran have been targeted, including those of the Badr Organization.
Targeting the media
Al-Hurra was originally suspended in September for reporting on corruption of religious foundations. Later, during the protests the offices of numerous foreign television stations were attacked on October 7. These included Al-Arabiya, Al-Hadath, NRT, Djilah. Arabiya was suspended on October 27. There is increasing concern of arbitrary arrests of journalists in Baghdad. Incitement by Qais Khazali, of Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis against Al-Hurra specifically began on October 27.
Abuses and shooting protesters
Human Rights Watch has reported on the widespread shooting and use of tear gas against protesters, including deliberately aiming tear gas canisters at the bodies of protesters.
Iraqis are arguing that the PMU and militia leaders are behind the abuses. One writes:
القادة المتورطين فالح الفياض وقيس الخزعلي وأبو مهدي المهندس وحامد الجزائري
Now the militia leaders have begun to respond. Since October 25 they have increased their rhetoric, blaming foreign interference and pointing a finger at the US and Israel.
Fitna (الفتنة): Strife and sedition
– الحشد الشعبي مستعد للوقوف ضد الفتنة التي تبغي تدمير العراق ومنجزاته
Khazali, Muhandis and Amiri have also blamed Israel or “Zionists” for the protests. In addition Saudi Arabia has been blamed. The militia and party leaders are closely linked to ruling government institutions such as the interior ministry.
The catalyst for the recent comments was the death of an AAH member named Wisam al-Alawi. Muhandis, Khazali and others are seeking to capitalize on this to blame the protesters and claim they are supported from abroad. Muhandis has tweeted his comments.
Iran’s media had joined in the accusations. Iran is hedging between blaming foreigners for the protests and emphasizing its economic connections to Iraq. Fars News says the current crisis was due to US involvement in an October 28 article.
A search of the word “fitna” in recent articles shows message discipline and common use among pro-Iranian voices. It is also used by others to warn of the strife in the country. Muhandis said he was ready to face the “sedition” in the country, a veiled threat. The term has also been used to describe the “discord” in Lebanon. The Prime Minister has said he is also concerned by the “strife.” Muqtada al-Sadr, who has supported the protests, also used the term.
However the term is closely linked to Amiri’s original statements about Israel and the US being behind the current crisis.