The conspiracy theories spread by Tehran and its allies about “foreign involvement” are a way for them to distract about the actual anger among protesters at Iran’s involvement.
By Seth J. Frantzman -November 6, 2019 16:35 – JERUSALEM POST
On the afternoon of November 4, Iraqi protesters were energized. Tonight, they would lay siege to the government and its oppressive security forces by assailing several bridges leading to the Green Zone, the seat of government and symbol of power. Jumhuriya and Sinjar bridges, as well as several others, would be the target.
But the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was moving against them online, cutting the Internet and plunging the city into social media darkness. The prime minister has appeared out of touch for a month as protests have cost Iraq billions, and he has been unable to assuage them. In fact, he has done the opposite. Befuddled and seemingly outranked by pro-Iranian militia commanders, he has allowed the security forces to be pushed aside as members of various other groups shoot protesters. This includes members of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the Badr Organization and Kata’ib Hezbollah. Other, more shadowy groups are also alleged to be involved. More than 250 protesters have been killed and thousands wounded. This is an organized campaign of oppression.
For the protesters the hidden hand of Iran is behind the attacks. Many videos show security forces and police or soldiers talking to the protesters. That means that it is not the regular army or police doing the killing. The protesters, mainly Shi’ites from Baghdad and the South, have become enraged. In response pro-Iranian political and militia leaders increasingly claim that the protests are a conspiracy. Everyone from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to Iraq’s Fatah Alliance leader Hadi al-Amiri, to Qais Khazali of AAH and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis of Kataib Hezbollah, have blamed the US for the “strife” or protests. Iran wants focus on the US, opening a new exhibition at the former US Embassy in Tehran and decorating Valiasr Square in Tehran with an anti-American poster. Khazali has claimed that Israel is behind the protests.
The conspiracy theories spread by Tehran and its allies about “foreign involvement” are a way for them to distract about the actual anger among protesters at Iran’s involvement. Since October 25, the protesters attacked Iran’s consulate in the holy city of Karbala twice. Qassam Soleimani, commander of the IRGC Quds Force, has been sent to Baghdad to advise the government on suppressing the protests. One Soleimani supporter said that he is the only one who “keeps the Zionists up at night.”
But banners in Baghdad and Karbala have targeted Soleimani and his allies, such as Amiri, saying their views are rejected. Posters specifically target Soleimani, and some suggest he is guiding the suppression from the Green Zone. Historically, the Iranians were able to play off being the weaker country aiding the “resistance” in countries like Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. But increasingly, Iranian-backed parties and militias have become leaders in their countries, including Amiri and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah. That gives them more power and as they age, they are no longer the youthful resistance, but they are the elderly oppressor. That is what has happened in Iraq.
Abdul Mahdi gave another speech on Tuesday, but protesters don’t care. Instead, they sought to attack areas the security forces had blocked off on the bridges. On November 4, parts of the Green Zone were reinforced as well, and the Internet was shut off. This was a tactic used in early October as well, before the government massacred people. Those massacres were carried out by elements within the Popular Mobilization Forces (Hashd al-Shaabi) and by militias linked to Iran.
IN THE EVENING of November 4, people were scared. They worried another massacre was being planned. But by morning the mass killing had not happened. Instead, there had been the usual clashes with some protesters killed and wounded.
In the early days of the protests, Muqtada al-Sadr, a leader of the Sairoon Party and a popular Shi’ite cleric, appeared to support them. But then he went to Tehran and only briefly reappeared over the weekend. His role is unclear. Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s senior cleric, also had called for restraint by security forces. He appeared to warn “foreign” forces from interfering in Iraq, which some thought was a hint at Iran. But the protests remain leaderless.
With Sistani, Sadr and others out of the picture and a weak Abdul Mahdi, Iraq seems to have disintegrated in Baghdad. Someone’s hidden hand must be behind things though, the protesters say. They speak of spies among them, kidnappings, and checkpoints outside the cities run by militias. They speak of shadowy gangs of men in black who come out at night to man the government barricades and shoot them. Who is giving the orders? Who is in control?
The president of Iraq, Barham Salih, flew to the Kurdistan autonomous region on November 4 where he was met by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Nechirvan Barzani. The Kurdish region has not participated in the protests, nor have mostly Sunni Arab areas. The KRG was working with Abdul Mahdi on budget negotiations, and they wonder what will come next if he actually resigns. Could the government be taken over by more far-right pro-Iranian elements? Or will it sink into chaos? The head of the Popular Mobilization Forces, Faleh al-Fayyad has also appeared to be silent since he said on October 7 that there was a conspiracy against Iraq. He says he will foil the conspiracy.
Iraqis appear to be on their own. In northern Iraq, a US Congressional delegation, including Rep. Adam Smith, met with KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani on November 4. US military officers visited the Kurdish Peshmerga front line against ISIS remnants. The relative security in the KRG was far from the chaos in Baghdad. However, Barzani is alarmed by problems next door in Syria, where a US withdrawal led to attack on Kurdish areas and 14,000 Kurds have fled fighting in Syria to the KRG.