As Iraqis defied government curfew and continued widespread protests on Thursday, the death toll climbed to more than 30 and Iran’s ambassador in Baghdad was summoned to the foreign ministry for provocative remarks he made last week.
In a local television interview aired last Thursday, the ambassador Iraj Masjedi said Iran will not hesitate to target American forces in Iraq if these forces threaten his country.
"If they [U.S. forces] don't cause any problem for the Islamic Republic, Iran won't respond to this presence [of US forces in Iraq],” Masjedi said. "If the Americans want to cause any problem for the Islamic Republic, they have to expect a response and reaction," Masjedi added.
Iraq’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abdolkarim Mostafa condemned these remarks and told the Iranian ambassador that his country “will never allow” to become a theater for international conflicts or allow for operations on its soil “against its allies or neighbors”.
Masjedi is an Islamic revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) officer who was an aide to Qods force commander Qassem Soleimani.
In protests this week in Iraq people shouted slogans against the Islamic Republic apparently for supporting Shiite militias and groups in Iraq who have a grip over the country’s politics. Protesters are angry at unemployment and lack of public services, even though Iraq is a major oil exporter.
International watchdog organizations have said that in the past several years hundreds of billions of dollars of oil revenues have been wasted because of corruption among Iraqi politicians. According to the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International, Iraq ranked 169 among 180 countries, next to Venezuela.
The situation remains volatile and unpredictable early Friday in Iraq, as protesters vow to continue their defiance, demanding a change of the country’s governing system and elite.