Iranian clerics and those close to their narratives have come out on Friday with a barrage of statements blaming the US for the recent protests in Iraq and Lebanon. The large number of statements given top headlines at Iran’s Press TV, Tasnim and Fars News media show that this is message discipline pushed by Iran’s regime. It began in earnest on October 26 when pro-Iranian leader in Iraq claimed the US and Israel were behind Iraqi protests.
Tehran’s Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani signaled that the “plot to create strife in Iraq and Lebanon” would be the main Friday sermon pushed in Iraq and Lebanon among Shi’ite and pro-Iranian groups. Although he said there could be reform in Lebanon and Iraq, he “warned of hostile elements seeking to destabilize the countries.” The word here is “fitna” or “sedition” and “strife” which is the term that pro-Iranian elements in Iraq have been using for a week. For instance this is the running theme among the Fatah Alliance, Popular Mobilization Units, Kata’ib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Badr Organization, the plethora of groups all of which are pro-Iran and some of which are directly linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Since October 2 Iran has played a close role in advising its allies in Iraq to use snipers ad harsh tactics to smash protests. Qasem Soleimani, IRGC Quds Force leader, flew to Iraq to urge Iraq to break the protests the way Ira had destroyed 2009 protests. “We have experience,” he reportedly said. Indeed, the experience was borne out this month as more than 250 were gunned down or killed in Iraq’s mostly Shi’ite areas that had risen up in protest. The unguided protests are mostly young people who are angered by corruption and stagnation. There is an ocean of oil under Iraq but why don’t they see they profits, they ask. They wonder why money seems to flow to Iran and its forest of political parties across Iraq that sponge up the profits. This week Iraq’s Prime Minister offered to step down.
Similarly in Lebanon the prime minister, Saad Hariri, the son of Rafic Hariri who was murdered by Hezbollah-linked perpetrators, offered to step down. In Lebanon the protest is a bit more boourgeoise than in Iraq, but it has may of the same types of claims: Anger at aging sectarian policies and stagnation.
Iran’s answer: Send out the clerics to claim that this is a “plot to create strife among different factions and tribes.” This text was sent out on Friday in Tehran, as part of the weekly Friday prayers that get the most attention. The dear leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said something similar. He claims that the “US and western spy agencies” are working with Arab regimes to instigate the “strife.” Kermani agrees. It is “foreign influence” that is behind the riots in Iraq and protests in Lebanon.
In Iraq Ayatollah Ali-Sistani, the country’s most famous cleric, has also warned against “fitna” and civil war. Sistani warns of any “attempt to exploit the Iraqi people’s protests.” Meanwhile the PMU or Hashd al-Shaabi, the Shi’ite paramilitaries who helped suppress the protests, is hedging its bets. It doesn’t want to be washed away by the protests if a new government is created. So it says it is “ensuring the security and integrity of Iraq and defending the country against terrorism.” It takes this terminology from Hezbollah and the IRGC. It statement, Iran says, is to confront rumors of military vehicles being sent by Abu Mhadi al-Muhandis into Baghdadi Jadriyah neighborhood. Indeed, why is Muhandis, who the US sanctions as a terrorist, getting military vehicles in Iraq to do anything?
Sistani’s message was carried on Iran’s Tasnim news as well. In Lebanon Nasrallah continues to claim there is a “conspiracy” behind the protests. His comments were also on Tasnim today.
In other areas of Iran local leaders pushed the same message. Mohammad Ali al-Hashemi, who has an Instagram account under the name Seyyed Sharif, said in Tabriz that “arrogant powers I the world, including the US and western intelligence” were sowing chaos in the Middle East and seeking to destroy the security of countries. A vast conspiracy was being made in Arab countries, he claimed. Iran’s army must be vigilant against it. “The wise leader of the revolution shows us how to be victorious, and the recent enemy conspiracy in Iraq and Lebanon illustrates that the heroic people will stand against the conspiracy.” For him the “heroic” people were those suppressing protests, not the protesters.
According to the same report at Fars News Seyyid Ebrahim Raisol-Sadati, often known as Ebrahim Raisi, made similar comments. The end goal of Iran’s regime is convince its followers that the US is launching plans against Iraq ad Lebanon.