At the beginning of last month, anti-corruption demonstrations spread through Iraq. They were put down, violently, by the government, sometimes with the help of the Iran-backed militias that have come to exert increasing influence in the country. The deaths of protestors at the hands of these militias have, however, only stoked popular anger and diverted much of it toward the Islamic Republic itself. David Adesnik and Nicholas Wernert write:
From the onset of the unrest, Tehran has played an integral role in shaping Baghdad’s response. After the first protests, Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, the organization’s expeditionary branch, flew to Baghdad and—in place of the prime minister—chaired a meeting of Iraq’s top security officials.
The U.S. has supported the elected Iraqi government’s efforts to assert the rule of law over the militias, yet their parliamentary factions serve as key power brokers in Baghdad. The current protests also demonstrate Iraqi voters’ complete loss of confidence in their prime minister, in part because of his failure to resist Tehran.
Until now, the U.S. government has been extremely hesitant to designate Iraq’s Iran-backed militias as terrorist organizations, fearing a potential popular backlash. Yet Iraqis’ own resentment of Iran’s proxy forces is now obvious. Washington therefore should designate these groups [as terrorists] under human-rights as well as counterterrorism authorities in order to highlight their atrocities and demonstrate that America stands with the Iraqi people.