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World Iran Finds Itself in Crosshairs of Arab Protesters

05:50  05 november  2019
05:50  05 november  2019 Source:   online.wsj.com

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Late Sunday, protesters in the holy Shiite city of Karbala torched the Iranian consulate with Molotov cocktails, hauling an Iraqi flag up on the compound walls. “But as Iran ’s partners gain power, they can’t escape the fact that they now have responsibility for their countries’ well-being.” In Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, protesters have chanted “ Iran out, out;” torn down billboards emblazoned with Iranian leaders; and thrown shoes—a severe insult in Muslim culture—at pictures of Qassem Soleimani, Iran ’s most famous commander and a frequent presence in Iraq.

The 2019–2020 Iranian protests also known as the Bloody November (Persian: آبان خونین‎), were a series of nationwide civil protests in Iran , initially caused by a 50%–200% increase in fuel prices

The largest mass protests to hit Iraq and Lebanon in decades are posing a direct challenge to the influence Iran has gained in both countries as demonstrators seek to overturn the political order.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd© ahmad al-rubaye/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Late Sunday, protesters in the holy Shiite city of Karbala torched the Iranian consulate with Molotov cocktails, hauling an Iraqi flag up on the compound walls. Security forces killed three people when dispersing the crowd with live ammunition, according to Iraq’s human-rights commission.

Over the past decade, Iran has leveraged instability in the Middle East to expand its footprint in the region. But as paramilitary groups backed by the Islamic Republic have gained political clout, protesters are holding Tehran and its local allies just as accountable as their own political classes for poor governance and state violence.

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2011–2012 protests in Iran . Part of the Iranian Green Movement. and the Arab Spring. The protesters were seen occupying government buildings, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran The Freedom Movement organization itself is banned in Iran because it "opposes Iran 's clerical rule and

Revolution. Politics portal. v. t. e. The 2018–2021 Arab protests , also referred to as the Second Arab Spring and Arab Summer are massive anti-government protests in several Arab countries

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“Tehran used to benefit from the perception that its rivals were the corrupt, ineffective ones,” said Emile Hokayem, Middle East analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “But as Iran’s partners gain power, they can’t escape the fact that they now have responsibility for their countries’ well-being.”

In Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, protesters have chanted “Iran out, out;” torn down billboards emblazoned with Iranian leaders; and thrown shoes—a severe insult in Muslim culture—at pictures of Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most famous commander and a frequent presence in Iraq.

Protesters have continued with undiminished force, even after unseating the Lebanese prime minister and pushing Iraq’s leader to the brink of resignation. In Lebanon, huge crowds returned to the streets over the weekend, after a brief lull that followed last week’s resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

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In 2019, Reporters Without Borders ranked Iran 170 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. This index lists countries from 1 to 180 based on the level of freedom journalists have to do

Returning to Iran , which now finds itself firmly in the crosshairs of regime change for no other reason that it refuses to bow to the writ of Washington, there is no longer any hiding place when it comes to taking sides. If those countries threatened by this eruption of US aggression do not hang together they will hang separately.

The protests, which have galvanized support across sectarian lines, have targeted a broad host of issues but anti-Iranian sentiments have been one focal point for popular anger, especially in Iraq’s south. Many protesters blame their country’s decrepit public services, dismal economic growth and corruption on a political leadership that they think is too often beholden to Tehran.

In Lebanon, protesters are demanding sweeping changes to a political system that has entrenched sectarianism—and foreign influence. The top three positions—president, prime minister and speaker—are divided equally among Christians, Sunnis and Shiites. Hezbollah, a Shiite military and political group that is Iran’s closest regional partner, commands a large share of the Shiite vote because of the sectarian political system, as well as its role in defending Lebanon against Israel and the Sunni extremists of Islamic State.

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Returning to Iran , which now finds itself firmly in the crosshairs of regime change for no other reason that it refuses to bow to the writ of Washington, there is no longer any hiding place when it comes to taking sides. If those countries threatened by this eruption of US aggression do not hang together they will hang separately.

As Iranians take to the streets in protest , the Ayatollahs in Tehran continue to use violence and imprisonment to oppress their people. Iranian -Americans have also been monitoring the reactions of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) to the protests . Still calling itself a community organization, NIAC has long been exposed as the Khomeiniist lobby organ in Washington, D.C. NIAC’s director, Jamal Abdi, astoundingly claimed that the Internet going offline in Iran was a result of the US sanctions, and not the regime’s actions.

In Iraq, a common target for protesters have been the Shiite militias, many of them backed by Iran, that translated their battlefield gains against Islamic State into political power. Known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, they formally answer to the state but operate with a large degree of impunity, giving Tehran a channel of influence. That power and territorial control have allowed the militias to emerge as a potent economic force, profiting off everything from taxation to its growing grip over state construction companies, as well as, according to the U.S., helping Iran evade sanctions.

Tehran appears to view the protests with concern, comparing the Arab protests with past unrest at home that it forcefully suppressed. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei last week accused the U.S., Israel and other Western countries of fomenting the revolts in Iraq and Lebanon.

“The enemies engaged in the same plots against Iran, but fortunately, people acted in a timely manner, and the sedition was nullified,” Mr. Khamenei said. Iranian officials use “sedition” to describe large domestic protests, in particular the 2009 Green Movement.

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Iran hasn’t been the only country to be the target of popular anger. Protesters in Baghdad have burned American and Israeli flags, as well as those of Saddam Hussein’s former Baath Party. “The ire seems primarily geared towards the respective ruling elites,” said Mohammad Ali Shabani, a researcher of Iran-Iraq relations at SOAS University of London. “The U.S.—and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia—for instance, have little to cheer about since they have fingers in the pie, too.”

Still, Iran has borne the brunt of public anger.

Protesters have burned offices of Tehran-backed paramilitary groups in southern Iraq. In Amarah, a mob of protesters pulled an injured commander of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia out of an ambulance and killed him, according to the militia. Video on social media showed the final moments of the murder.

As the unrest has intensified, Tehran has moved to protect its political allies. After Iraq’s prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, offered to resign, Mr. Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s Qods Force, intervened to keep him in office, according to two people familiar with the secret meetings.

During a four-day visit to Baghdad, Mr. Soleimani asked the leaders of the two largest political blocs who had called for the prime minister’s ouster—Hadi al-Ameri and Moqtada al-Sadr—to continue supporting the prime minister, these people said. On Sunday, Mr. Abdul-Mahdi called for the country to return to normal without mentioning his previous offer to resign.

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Iran’s Revolutionary Guard couldn’t be reached for comment, but a government official said: “There are objectives behind such reports to make it look like Iran is telling Iraq what to do.” He said that although some anti-Iranian sentiments in Iraq was only natural, “it is being exaggerated to insinuate that Iran is a detested player in Iraq.”

Sabah al-Ogaili, a parliamentarian from Mr. Sadr’s bloc denied any deal to keep the prime minister in place, calling the claim “nonsense.”

Meanwhile, Tehran-backed paramilitary groups have targeted what they see as sources of the unrest. The Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella of Iraqi paramilitary groups, many of them backed by Iran, has been accused by Human Rights Watch of firing live shots at protesters, albeit sometimes to defend their offices.

The PMF is also accused by Amnesty International of intimidating and abducting protesters. On Oct. 8, Ali Jaseb Hattab, a lawyer who had used Facebook to accuse a local Iranian-backed militia of killing protesters, was kidnapped in the southern city of Amarah, his family said.

After being lured to a street after dark, purportedly to meet a client, Mr. Hattab was accosted by men and bundled into a car, according to his brother Mustafa, who provided surveillance video of the abduction to The Wall Street Journal. The family said Mr. Hattab had received threats telling him to stop making the accusations before his disappearance. It declined to name the responsible group for security reasons. Mr. Hattab is still missing.

Some influential Iraqi officials have urged Iran to stay out of its internal affairs. Iraq’s top Shiite authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, on Friday warned that “no international or regional party” should interfere with the will of the Iraqi people.

Opposition to Tehran has been largely absent from Lebanon’s rallies, but criticism of Hezbollah, the Shiite militia and political group backed by Iran, has been unusually vocal. On Oct. 19, hundreds of Hezbollah supporters attacked protesters in Tyre and Nabatieh in south Lebanon, the group’s heartland.

Echoing Iranian leaders, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has called Lebanon’s protests a foreign plot against the “axis of resistance,” a term for an anti-Western and anti-Israel alliance of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.

Last week, supporters of Hezbollah and the Shiite Amal party rampaged through downtown Beirut, attacking protesters with metal pipes and wooden sticks and burning their tents. Afterward, bruised protesters sat shaking on the sidewalks, one man crying that the army had stood by as the vigilantes beat them.

“Even [Hezbollah’s] leader admits that they are the soldiers of Iran,” said Mohammad Abouzeid, who lives in southern Lebanon and witnessed Hezbollah attacking protesters in Tyre. “They only have foreign interests and agendas.”

Write to Sune Engel Rasmussen at sune.rasmussen@wsj.com

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