Iranian media and local sources in Iraq have reported on the protests sweeping the country with increasing concern that the protesters oppose Iranian influence.This concern has now reached the highest levels of Iran’s regime, where the narrative that has been concocted is to blame “foreign” hands for the unrest. Under this logic, tens of thousands of young men, leaderless and braving the gunfire of security forces, have been sacrificing themselves by the dozens all because of some complex conspiracy.Iraq’s government of Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi has shut down Internet and social media, and even made phone calls difficult in areas across Iraq, all to stop the protests. Yet the protests continue.To discredit them, an Iranian cleric claimed on Friday that the US and Israel are behind the protests. Supposedly, it was to “disrupt a major annual Shi’ite Muslim pilgrimage planned to be held in Iraq later this month,” Reuters reported. “The enemy is now determined against the Islamic nation – America and Zionism are targeting the Arba’een pilgrimage in Iraq, causing trouble,” claimed Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani.His full Friday sermon, published by Tasnim News in Farsi, claims that “America and Zionism are the enemies of God.” He mentions the Houthi rebels in Yemen who “have shown themselves against the miserable Saudi rulers,” and notes that Saudi Arabia’s reputation has been weakened. This is a reference to the September 14 drone and missile attack on Saudi Arabia.He also mentions the US “maximum pressure” sanctions on Iran, saying it has not been successful. “Endurance is the way of the martyrs.” It is in this context, he says, that the “enemies” are targeting the religious pilgrimages to the holy sites in Karbala, where Shi’ites make pilgrimage. He calls on people to take refuge in the shrine of Imam Hussein.In Iraq, the senior Shi’ite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, lamented the deaths of dozens of protesters and called for an end to the deaths, casualties and destruction. He called on the government to listen to the people’s demands about corruption and other issues.The differences between the narrative from Iran and from Iraq is stark. Iran wants to portray the protests as hijacked by outsiders. An article by Fars News claims that the UK and US are behind the demonstrations. An article claims some of the images of the protests online are fake. “Counter-revolutionary media, too, welcomes these protests, trying to distance the Iranian and Iraqi people,” it said. Iranian media also notes that pilgrims from Iran have been held up at the border due to curfews and protests imposed in Iraq. Iranian media have also spread rumors of a plot against Sistani, coming the same day that he appeared to express sympathy for the protests.