Three of Iran’s five consulates in Iraq have been set on fire by protesters in just over a year, highlighting the deep hostility among young Iraqis to Tehran’s perceived interference in their country’s internal affairs.
Iraq’s ongoing protests are not a new phenomenon. Young Iraqis have taken to the streets several times in the past few years to protest against high unemployment, corruption, and the lack of basic services.
The latest protests, which began on October 1, have been met with violence, with security forces and masked militiamen firing military grade tear gas and live ammunition into the crowds.
As a result of the violent repression, the protesters demands have become more radical, with calls for constitutional amendments, an overhaul of electoral laws, and a new political system.
At least 320 protesters and security force personnel have been killed and 15,000 wounded since the protests began, according to Iraq’s parliamentary human rights committee.
Similar protests took place in the summer of 2018, with a particular focus around the oil-rich but poverty wracked southern province of Basra. Then, as now, Iran’s consulates were singled out by protesters and torched.
The Basra consulate has since been rebuilt.
The political class that has ruled Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion has been deeply influenced by neighboring Iran. Leaked documents show Tehran has long played cat and mouse inside Iraq and its influence runs deep.
Many of the parties, including the Islamic Dawa, which ruled Iraq from 2006 to 2018 under Nouri al-Maliki and Haider al-Abadi, are known for their close ties to Iran.
Iraqis, realizing this, have been chanting anti-Iran slogans throughout their protests. In Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the burning of Iranian flags and chants of “Iran out, Baghdad is free” are common.
In Babil, Iraqis have painted Iranian flags on the ground before stomping on them, mimicking Iran’s own treatment of the US and Israeli flags in its own showpiece stunts.
The protesters’ wrath, however, has extended far beyond symbolic actions. In just a little over a year, they have burned three of Iran’s five consulates.
Iran has consulates in Erbil, Sulaimani, Basra, and in the two holy cities of Karbala and Najaf.
All three of Iran’s consulates in southern Iraq have been burned. Those is the Kurdistan Region, meanwhile, have been spared.
Iran’s consulate in Karbala was set on fire on November 4. Three Iraqis were killed and 12 were injured in the incident.
Iran’s consulate in Najaf was torched on Wednesday night. Protesters appear to be ignoring a curfew since imposed on the city.
Both Najaf and Karbala are of spiritual significance for millions of Iranians. Some of the holiest Shiite shrines are located there and millions of Iranian pilgrims visit each year.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei and Iraq’s Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), known in Arabic as Hashd al-Shaabi, have all claimed there is a foreign hand behind the protests – pointing the finger at Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.
Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday condemned the attack on the Najaf consulate, calling it a deliberate effort to sabotage Iraq’s relations with Iran.
“The Foreign Ministry, in the strongest terms, condemns the assault on the Islamic Republic of Iran consulate in Najaf al-Ashraf by individuals alien to the reality of the just protests that some of our Iraqi cities witness,” the Ministry said in a statement.
“We see that the purpose of them has become clear, which is to damage historical ties between Iraq and Iran, and also the rest of the countries of the world, whose missions work in Iraq,” the Ministry added.
The Ministry urged protesters to not let saboteurs taint their demands.
“The Ministry affirms that the diplomatic missions working on Iraqi soil are respected and appreciated, and it emphasizes that what happened doesn’t represent the official stance,” the Ministry added.
Source » rudaw