Iran frets as anti-government protests take hold in Iraq and Lebanon

Iran frets as anti-government protests take hold in Iraq and LebanonProtesters attacked the Iranian consulate in the Iraqi Shia holy city of Karbala on Sunday, as demonstrations continued to grow against Tehran’s influence in the country. Crowds scaled the building’s concrete barriers and tried to take down the Iranian flag and replace it with the Iraqi one before three were shot dead by security forces. Many demonstrators have accused Iran of propping up the “corrupt, inefficient” government they want to overthrow, as they have taken to the streets in the biggest mass protests since the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. “I am the son of Karbala and there is no Iranian who can dictate to me,” one angry protester shook his fist as he spoke to a local TV station, in a clip widely shared on social media on Monday. An Iraqi protester waves the Iraqi national flag as he stands on a concrete wall at the Iranian consulate in Karbala, Iraq Credit: REX In recent days, they have been seen burning posters of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which would have been unthinkable before the recent protests began last month. In the 16 years since the fall of Saddam Huseein, a Sunni Muslim, Shia neighbour Iran has emerged as a key power broker in Iraqi politics. Tehran closely backs both its Shia-led government and maintains control over a number of powerful armed groups in Iraq. Iran has reportedly stepped in to prevent the ouster of Abdel Abdul Mahdi, Iraq’s prime minister, which has been called for by protesters and prominent political rivals.  Militias backed by Tehran have tried to help put down the rallies, which are growing in scale, deploying snipers and firing on unarmed demonstrators. More than 250 people have been killed since the protests first erupted on October 1. Iraqi demonstrators block al-Sanak bridge during the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad Credit: Reuters In another holy city, Najaf, demonstrators changed the name of Imam Khomenei road (after the late ayatollah) to “ Martyrs of October Revolution” road after those killed. Elsewhere, in Lebanon, protesters have been chanting against what they see as the meddling of both Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Mediterranean country’s domestic affairs. Protests against political corruption and mismanagement have been largely secular and peaceful, however supporters of the two biggest Shia parties, Hizbollah and Amal, have attempted to quash the rallies with violence. Lebanon's government is dominated by the allies of Shia armed movement Hizbollah, through which Iran exerts significant influence.  Hizbollah is part of a political bloc that won the 2018 election, giving it control over the parliament and most to lose should the government fall. Lebanese riot policemen face off with anti-protest demonstrators shouting pro-Hizbollah and Amal Movement slogans in Beirut Credit: REX Protests in Iraq and Lebanon have rattled Iran, analysts say, threatening the latter’s hard-won influence on both countries. "Very clearly, Iran in both Lebanon and Iraq wants to protect the system and not allow it to fall apart," said Renad Mansour, researcher at London-based Chatham House. In both countries "it considers the demands of protesters potentially destabilising," he said.

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