The Iraqi Protests Are an Opportunity for Iran

Oct. 18 2019

On October 1, Baghdad witnessed mass demonstrations decrying government corruption and demanding economic improvements; the protests have since spread to other parts of the country. While initially peaceful, they were met almost immediately with violent repression, and over 100 have been killed. More recently, there have been reports of snipers from Iran-backed militias—known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)—firing at protestors. The unrest, notes Bilal Wahab, comes in the wake of a positive development: younger Iraqis especially are increasingly motivated by national, rather than tribal or sectarian, sentiment:

The latest outburst of public outrage was [in part] triggered by the nationalist sentiment that has grown since the defeat of Islamic State. The younger post-Saddam generation is proud of the army’s victory over the terrorists and the subsequent return of calm to most cities. Thus, when Prime Minister Adil Abdulmahdi announced earlier this week that he had removed the war’s most popular military figure, General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, the [nationalist] sentiment boiled over. A fearless commander who spearheaded the battle for Mosul’s liberation, . . . Saadi is the epitome of Iraqi national pride: he is Shiite, but popular with Sunnis, and he rose through the ranks without relying on political patronage.

In addition, the younger, web-connected generation knows that it makes little sense for such a rich country to have so many poor people, shabby roads, dilapidated hospitals, and broken schools. . . . Many are also uneasy about the rise of certain militias within the PMF that [fought] Islamic State but are now becoming part of a new, more dangerous network that has accelerated corruption and openly challenged state authority.

Because the demonstrators are mainly young Shiites fed up with the Shiite representatives who failed them, Abdulmahdi seems inclined to fall back on contradictory conspiracy theories: one accusing Saudi Arabia and the United States of fomenting the protests, another blaming Iran and its local proxies. Such paranoia will only cripple his efforts to carry out the serious reforms his public is demanding.

Wahab urges the U.S. to apply behind-the-scenes pressure on the Iraqi government to rein in its security forces and respond to the protestors’ concerns. Otherwise, unrest is likely to grow—creating an opportunity for Tehran to expand its influence in the country.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Arab democracy, Iran, Iraq

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy