Senior Iraqi officials revealed on Wednesday that Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian “Quds Force” unit that masterminds terrorism and repression beyond Iran’s borders, was sent to Baghdad in the early hours of the current protest movement to strategize with Iranian security personnel.
Soleimani reportedly appears to have taken over the Iraqi government’s deadly response to the protests.
The Associated Press quoted two senior Iraqi officials who spoke anonymously to describe a “secret meeting” of top security officials held in Baghdad last month, the day after protests began. The attendees reportedly expected Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to chair the meeting but were surprised when Soleimani arrived by helicopter and took over.
“We in Iran know how to deal with protests. This happened in Iran and we got it under control,” Soleimani reportedly told the gathering.
“The day after Soleimani’s visit, the clashes between the protesters and security forces in Iraq became far more violent, with the death toll soaring past 100 as unidentified snipers shot demonstrators in the head and chest. Nearly 150 protesters were killed in less than a week,” the AP noted.
Angry Iraqi citizens have reported numerous instances of mysterious black-clad thugs attacking them with knives and guns. It is widely suspected the assailants are disguised Iranians or Iraqi Shiite fighters loyal to Iran. Many protesters have been outspokenly critical of Iran’s influence in Baghdad. Some of the demonstrations have mocked Soleimani by name.
Iraqi security analyst Hisham al-Hashimi told the AP Iran is “afraid of these demonstrations because it has made the most gains in the government and parliament through parties close to it” and could stand to lose its control over the Iraqi government in an uprising.
“Iran does not want to lose these gains. So it has tried to work through its parties to contain the protests in a very Iranian way,” he said.
Radio Farda recalled a powerful Iraqi militia aligned with Iran, the Hashd al-Shaabi Force, announcing soon after Soleimani’s visit that it would take action to prevent a “coup d’etat or rebellion” against Abdul Mahdi’s government. Also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Hashd al-Shaabi became an official wing of the Iraqi military after the fall of the Islamic State, which the mostly-Shiite militia clashed with.
After four subsequent weeks of increasingly large protests, Iran might have decided Abdul Mahdi himself is expendable, because Radio Farda noted a parliamentary bloc of Iran-backed militia groups has reportedly decided to back Abdul Mahdi’s ouster.
Israel’s Ynet News on Thursday saw Iran growing increasingly nervous about events in Iraq, especially since Lebanon is also experiencing a massive political upheaval that could threaten Iran’s influence through its terrorist proxy Hezbollah.
“Iraqi and Lebanese protesters have been corresponding and supporting each other’s causes over WhatsApp,” Ynet observed.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday gave a speech to a group of military cadets in which he claimed “U.S. and Western intelligence services, financed by certain reactionary countries of the region,” are fomenting unrest in Iraq and Lebanon. The “certain reactionary countries” he had in mind would be Saudi Arabia and its allies.
Khamenei further implied that protests in Iran were likewise instigated by the West, Israel, and Iran’s regional enemies, telling the cadets they should prepare to confront serious threats of “sedition.”
Soleimani gave a speech on October 7 in which he boasted the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization according to the U.S. government, has created “territorial continuity” for the “Islamic resistance” by expanding Iran’s influence through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.