Having failed to dislodge Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad after eight years of conflict and with the twin political processes of the UN and the Astana initiatives moving a step closer towards peace, the alliance against Iran appears to have turned its sights on Iran’s neighbour and other ally, Iraq by attempting to hijack yet another legitimate protest with the prospects of turning it into a coup d’état.
Leaked diplomatic cables from 2006 – five years before the Syrian uprising, reveal that the former US Ambassador to Syria, William Roebuck, suggested America seek to undermine the sovereignty of the Syrian state through destabilisation and exploiting vulnerabilities in the Assad government – including playing on “fears of Iranian influence”.
Now if we are to believe US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s assertion – without evidence – that Iran was behind attacks on Saudi’s largest oilfields, President Donald Trump certainly had no intention of escalating tensions militarily. Despite Pompeo’s sabre rattling that the attacks constituted a “declaration of war”, his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif was quick to assert that any US or Saudi strike on Iran will cause all-out war.
Thus, despite being more than militarily capable of carrying out direct strikes against Iran, the potential repercussions to the US and its allies in the wider region and to the global economy render such actions strategically misplaced. Ultimately, the US and its allies lack the political will to wage conventional war against the Islamic Republic.
Naturally the anti-Iran nexus must then opt for indirect, covert attacks against Tehran via its regional allies and interests. Which brings us to the current activities in Iraq.
It has been alleged that sources within Iraq’s Prime Minister’s Office have said
the recent demonstrations were already planned a couple of months ago. Baghdad was working to try and ease the situation in the country, particularly since the demands of the population are legitimate.
Speaking on the number of civilians killed along with some security forces and government buildings being set alight or destroyed, the sources are also said to have added: “This sort of behaviour has misdirected the real grievances of the population onto a disastrous course: creating chaos in the country. Who benefits from the disarray in Iraq?”
The founder and head of the Iranian-supported Asaib Ahl Al-Haq paramilitary group and political party, cleric Qais Al-Khazali, echoed similar sentiments by foretelling over two months ago that there were plans to stage a coup in November, with engineered protests erupting in October.
Al-Khazali has expressed claims of conspiracy previously, as with the Basra demonstrations in September last year whilst acknowledging that “the protests were originally legitimate and true”.
Adding weight to Al-Khazali’s comments, there have been reports that the Iraqi intelligence had been made aware of plans of a US-backed coup involving Iraqi military officers three months ago.
Al Akhbar newspaper says the govt of #Iraq learned 3 months ago of a planned US-backed coup by military officers, to be followed by street action. Time to be skeptical about events in Iraq? pic.twitter.com/6CeEsg5BHF
— Sharmine Narwani (@snarwani) October 5, 2019
This may also explain the Iraqi government’s controversial and abrupt decision to demote the popular Lieutenant General Abdul Wahab Al-Saadi from his position as commander of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Forces (ICTS) without giving a reason. Instrumental as he was in leading the victory over Daesh in Mosul, he was perceived to be too close to the US military and neutral towards Iran and could well be one of the “military officers” alluded to above.
Meanwhile, mainstream media and human rights organisations have been busy reporting on unknown snipers targeting civilian protestors which are being attributed to pro-Iranian paramilitaries, unfortunately these are hallmarks of external involvement in seeking to exacerbate and convert anti-government protests into a fully-fledged revolution. “The use of mercenaries, death squads and snipers by Western intelligence agencies is well documented. No rational government attempting to stay in power would resort to unknown snipers to intimidate its opponents,” political analyst Gearoid O Colmain writes.
Indeed it has even been suggested that the unknown snipers have targeted both protestors and security forces alike.
Many Iraqi protesters are complaining of unknown snipers targeting them from rooftops, and it's possible they are aiming at both the demonstrators & the security forces. https://t.co/RE7c5DJyUj
— Liz Sly (@LizSly) October 4, 2019
Iran too reportedly unveiled an assassination plot last month against Major General Qassem Soleimani, senior commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), with the alleged joint “Arab-Israeli” secret services training and preparing the suspects in an unnamed “neighbouring country” close to Iran.
However, it appears the leadership under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are vigilantly following events in Iraq, the Supreme Leader spoke recently of “enemies” seeking to sow division between Tehran and Baghdad, adding that the Islamic Republic is taking pro-active measures in preventing another “Syria” from occurring.
On the social media front to this engineered uprising, Dr Marc Owen Jones, assistant professor in Middle Eastern Studies, has an interesting Twitter thread on hashtags in support of the Iraqi people and describing a “revolution” at hand. Jones has reason to believe it is an influence campaign with almost 20 per cent of accounts likely to be fake and a majority which do not have any location data and are sent by iPhones (the author is doubtful as to how popular these are in Iraq compared to other phones). Interestingly he identified one of the first accounts to post the hashtags featured a lot of Saudi and Iraqi flags, noting that one of the most telling indicators of “inorganic activity” are accounts created in a short time frame – based on his research, the “fake” accounts were created over three days (1-3 October). Although some Iraqis are finding loopholes in accessing the social media, it has been blocked nationwide during the protests – with the exception of the Kurdistan region. Again, the online information campaign is largely being conducted outside of Iraq.
It remains to be seen how successful the localised protests will be in transforming into the intended populist revolution resulting in favourable regime change by those opposed to Tehran’s hegemony. However, should it fail, it wont be the first time the anti-Iranian alliance has fallen short in its indirect war of attrition against Iran’s “Axis of Resistance”.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.