Several hundred demonstrators have now been killed in Iraq, with thousands injured. Iraq once again resembles a warzone, with open clashes between unarmed demonstrators and paramilitaries.
Investigations have demonstrated that most of these fatalities were caused by snipers firing indiscriminately into crowds of peaceful protestors – despite the Prime Minister claiming that live ammunition shouldn’t be used. According to consistent reports sourced from Iraqi intelligence, these snipers were elite members of Al-Hashd al-Shaabi militia forces, acting under the direct command of Quds Force’s Qassim Soleimani.
Soleimani has visited Iraq several times over the course of the crisis and his involvement in chairing high-level military meetings appears to have resulted in militias and affiliated security forces taking an increasingly brutal approach to crushing the protests.
It is a matter of huge concern to Soleimani and Hashd leaders that protests, which have been most intense in Shia areas of Iraq, have focused their anger against Iran’s meddling in Iraq. In Shia holy cities protestors burnt the Iranian flag and beat their shoes against images of Khamenei and Soleimani. Hashd offices in major towns across southern Iraq were attacked by angry protestors, and these clashes were also responsible for many fatalities, when militias like Asaib Ahlulhaq and Kataib Hezbollah fought back against demonstrators. “Iran Barra, Barra” (Iran get out!) has been a dominant chant in protests in both Lebanon and Iraq.
In Lebanon too, Hassan Nasrallah ridiculously tried to claim that the millions of citizens on the streets were there at the behest of foreign embassies. No; they were there because they were angry about the corruption and misgovernance of a succession of Hezbollah-dominated administrations.
We have never before seen anti-Hezbollah protests in Hezbollah strongholds of southern Lebanon, south Beirut and the Beqaa. Yet ordinary people are sick of Hezbollah’s control over every aspect of their lives, particularly after thousands of Hezbollah recruits were sent to fight and die in a genocidal war against the people of Syria.
Nasrallah sent his own thugs to attack innocent demonstrators in the streets of Beirut; unarmed women and miserable citizens complaining that they were hungry and had no jobs because faction leaders had stolen the nation’s wealth and left Lebanon bankrupt.
In both Lebanon and Iraq, leading clerics have been increasingly vocal in denouncing crackdowns; calling on governments to respect the rights of protestors and denouncing violent acts by foreign-backed militias. Until recently Iran had successfully sought to monopolize the position of leader of the Shia world; so it is stunning to see leading Shia voices denouncing Iran’s brutal interventions.
Bahrain had a series of lucky escapes from Iranian attempts at coups, regime change and terrorist insurgency – notably in 1981, 1996 and 2011. In Iraq and Lebanon, as well as in Iran itself, we have a chance to see what Iran-dominated governance looks like – it is a miserable picture of brutal, corrupt oppression.
As well as dominating Iraq’s government, rival Hashd groups push for control of every inch of Baghdad and Iraq’s provinces. They are engaged in every imaginable form of crime and corruption; from extorting money from business deals, to drugs, prostitution and arms smuggling.
Ruhollah Khomeini’s “Islamic Republic” was, according to his own blueprint, a dictatorship by Ayatollahs; with the built in concept of forcibly “exporting the revolution” to as many other regional states as possible. As of 2019, Tehran remains faithful to that blueprint. The shattered states of Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon are testimony to this.
We hope that the long-suffering citizens of Lebanon, Iraq – and indeed Iran as well – will soon be free of this tyranny.