On July 1, 2016, some Iraqi cities marked Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day, which involved protests against Israel and the U.S. This day is marked each year in Iran and in other Shi'ite communities in the Middle East on the last Friday of Ramadan, and usually includes anti-Israel and anti-American chants. In the majority Shi'ite city of Basra, Iraq, local police were photographed participating in an Al-Quds Day parade, and marching over Israeli and American flags. The Iraqi Al-Ghad Press news agency reported that American flags were also burned during the parade, and that Iraqi police were joined by members of the Shi'ite Al-Hashd Al-Sha'abi ("popular mobilization") militias.
Iraqis Warn: The Incident May Lead To An Iraq-U.S. Diplomatic Crisis
The London-based Qatari daily Al-Arabi Al-Jadid quoted Muhammad Al-Basri, director of the Center for Iraqi Political Studies, who said that "security personnel actively participated in Al-Quds [Day] protests, carried images of non-Iraqi religious leaders, and chanted slogans such as 'Death to America,'" adding that this would be viewed negatively in the West and do harm to Iraq. Al-Basri also said that "most security forces in Basra were trained by Americans, and this event indicates the failure of the American plan [to influence Iraq] and affirm [the claim] that the Iranians have appropriated this plan."
Other Iraqis also criticized the behavior of the Basra police. 'Ali Hussein, a columnist for the Iraqi daily Al-Mada, wrote on July 2 that Basra police officers suffer from split personality disorder, arguing that those who applauded the Americans for toppling the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003 - meaning the Shi'ites who suffered under his rule - are the same ones cursing the Americans today. The Kurdish-Iraqi news website Kurdistan24 cited Iraqi activists who condemned the event on social media. One activist, 'Abd Al-Kareem Hassan, wondered: "Have you ever heard of officers in the New York, Washington, Chicago, London, or Paris police stepping on an Iraqi flag in one of their ceremonies? ... Do they [the Basra police] know that their actions could lead to a diplomatic crisis between the U.S. and Iraq...?"
Basra police preparing to march over U.S. and Israeli flags placed on the road (Kurdistan24.net, July 2, 2016)
Burning U.S. Flags - Expression Of Deep Iranian Infiltration Into Iraq
The online Saudi daily Elaph.com saw this event as a further expression of Iran's "deep infiltration" into Iraq. A July 3 article included additional incidents pointing to the major influence wielded by Iran in Iraq. For instance, the article reported that this week, the Basra governorate council had voted to rename one of the city's streets in honor of the founder of Iran's Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The article also mentions that members of Iraq's Shi'ite ruling party, the National Iraqi Alliance (NIA), were invited to an iftar (the evening meal breaking the daily fast during Ramadan) at the Iranian embassy. Senior attendees included Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Ja'afari and former prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki. According to Elaph, despite the presence of the Iraqi foreign minister, no Iraqi flags were present in the dining hall.
Basra street named for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (Iraqkhbar.com, July 2, 2016)
Iraqi Interior Minister: Those Involved Were Questioned And Will Be Punished
Al-Arabi Al-Jadid cited sources who stated that the government in Baghdad was embarrassed by the behavior of the Basra police, especially after receiving concerned messages from the U.S. The daily reported that Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi had ordered the launch of an immediate investigation and the prosecution of those involved. Indeed, the Interior Ministry, which is actually headed by a member of the pro-Iranian Badr Organization, quickly issued a statement noting that Interior Minister Muhammad Al-Ghaban had ordered the questioning of those involved and their punishment in accordance with the law, which forbids security forces members from taking part in events of a political nature such as Al-Quds Day. The statement also mentioned that the Interior Ministry would continue to monitor violations of the law and would decisively apply legal sanctions, which could also include expulsion from the security forces.