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Iraq Protests: Slogans Reflect Anti-Iran Sentiment

Member's of Najaf's Shiite clerical community and religious studies students calling for reform take part in anti-government protests in the central Iraqi holy city on October 29, 2019.

Baghdad - As the second wave of Iraq protests continues since October 25 with new demands and anti-Iran slogans, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei strongly expressed his opposition on Wednesday to both Iraqi and Lebanese uprisings.

“The people have justifiable demands, but they should know their demands can only be fulfilled within the legal structure and framework of their country,” Khamenei said on Twitter.

Earlier on Wednesday (October 30), Iran accused the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel of instigating the street protests in Iraq and Lebanon and called for "peace" and end to "interference by foreign forces" in both countries.

Iranian state media also quoted President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmoud Mahmoud Vaezi as saying the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel were riding a wave of popular demands and providing those forces with financial support.

The official Iranian statements sounded much similar to ones made a few days earlier by a local official in a major southern Iraqi city. A Youtube video widely circulated on social media showed Police Chief of Basra as saying that "Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Israel are paying money to the protesters in order to harm Iraq so that the oil is taken by America."

The first wave of protests started on October 1 with demonstrators calling for social reforms, improving basic services, fighting rampant corruption and unemployment. But with the resumption of the protests after a two-week hiatus, the level of demands have increased to include government’s resignation and regime change.

In a report entitled "Live bullets harvest new protesters, Iraqi students flood the streets and teachers go on strike", the Iraqi daily Azzaman reported on October 28 that "during the protests, some of which were violent, the headquarters of pro-Islamic Republic parties and factions were attacked and anti-Iranian slogans were chanted.

There is clearly a split in the street and among the political elite between Iran's supporters and those who support convergence with the United States, both key allies of Iraq. Among the main slogans chanted by the protesters was “out, out Iran; Baghdad free, free.”

The overall toll of the rallies since erupting in Baghdad and southern cities on October 1 has reportedly reached 240 killed and more than 8,000 people wounded.

Commenting on Iraq and Lebanon protests, Hanin Ghaddar of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote in a Foreign Policy article on October 22: "Iran created proxies in both countries, gave them power through funding and arms, and helped them infiltrate state institutions. Today, state institutions in Iraq and Lebanon have one main job: Instead of protecting and serving the people, they have to protect and serve Iranian interests."

She added that "Iran’s role in responding to the demonstrations in Iraq and the failure of the government to protect its citizens is a significant indication of Tehran’s influence in the country."

On his part, Iraqi journalist Azhar Al-Rubaie wrote in a article on Washington Institute's "Firkra Forum" on October 29, "Iraqi citizens’ frustration with Iranian influence in Iraq is also fueling this discontent, especially regarding the ways in which Iranian-backed militias are able to exercise free reign throughout the country."

Meanwhile, the main center of rallies at downtown Baghdad's Tahrir Square was visited by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, on Wednesday where she "exchanged views" and discussed "possible ways to address the legitimate demands of peaceful demonstrators." The United Nations Iraq website also reported on October 30 that "Plasschaert called for a national dialogue to identify prompt, meaningful responses, to break the vicious cycle of violence, and to unite against the perils of division and inaction."

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    Nabil Ahmed

    Nabil Ahmed is a former broadcast journalist at RFE/ RL's Iraq Service and an author writing about Iraq and the region. He is an occasional contributor to Radio Farda from Baghdad, Iraq