November 8, 2019 Special Dispatch No. 8355

As Protests And Social Unrest In Iraq Threaten Iranian Interests There, 'Kayhan' Editor Shariatmadari Tells Iraqis: Take Over The U.S., Saudi Embassies In Baghdad

November 8, 2019
Iran, Iraq | Special Dispatch No. 8355

Under the shadow of intensified social and political protests in Iraq, including in the country's Shi'ite areas, Iran fears that it will lose its strategic status there, and is playing a role in suppressing the unrest – which is aimed against it as well.

So far, there are reports of unrest in the cities of Baghdad, Karbala, and Basra, with dozens of protestors said to have been killed along with some 600 reported injured. It was also reported that on November 3 the Iranian consulate in Karbala was torched, and that a boycott of Iranian products has spread to the Shi'ite cities of Karbala and Najaf.[1]

Calls in Iraq are condemning the Iranian regime's growing political and military influence and economic exploitation of the country. This has prompted senior Iranian officials to claim that the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia are behind the unrest, seeking to fan its flames so as to damage the Iran-led resistance axis and Iran itself. Several Iranian officials have even said that young Iraqis cannot possibly be shouting slogans against Iran of their own volition – and that their doing so is proof that they have been incited by foreign forces. 

Iraq is a significant element in the ideological/political/military/economic sphere of influence that the Iranian regime is constructing in the region – militarily, as one of the forces making up the resistance axis; politically, as an area of direct influence in Iran's efforts to export its Islamic revolution; and economically, as a pipeline for circumventing the U.S. economic sanctions on Iran (see Appendix II for MEMRI reports on Iraq's importance to the Iranian regime).

Arab media have published numerous reports on visits to Iraq by IRGC Qods Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and about his direct involvement in activity in Iraq to suppress the unrest.[2] Additionally, the Iranian news agency ILNA reported on an October 31 meeting of Gholam Reza Jalali, director of Iran's Passive Defense Organization, with Javad Shahrestani, representative of Iraq's top ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, in Qom, Iran. At this meeting, Jalalai prosed that Iran provide the Iran-backed Shi'ite militia Hashd Al-Sha'bi (PMU) and "members of the resistance stream" in Iraq with a "local communications network" to help them "against the enemy threats." He also said about the unrest in Iraq that "Iran is making efforts to use all technology and must remove all threats and damage."[3]

This report will review top Iranian officials' efforts to address the threat to Iran's strategic status in Iraq as the protests against Iran increase there. These efforts include guidelines by top Iranian regime officials, led by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, to prioritize ending the instability and turmoil in Iraq; calls in Iran to the Iraqis to take over the U.S. Embassy; threats to the U.S. by Iran to retaliate on Iraqi soil to any attack on Iran; and expressions of anger that the Iraqi regime has not protected Iranian targets that were bombed in attacks attributed to Israel. The report will also review threats by the Iran-backed Shi'ite militias against U.S. interests. Appendix I presents MEMRI reports on Iraq's strategic importance for the Iranian regime, and Appendix II presents reports on Iran's export of its Islamic Revolution to Iraq and the region.

I. Call By Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei To "Those Who Care In Iraq": Prioritize "Remedy[ing] The Insecurity And Turmoil"

Khamenei In Speech At Army Cadet Commencement: Prioritize "Remedy[ing] The Insecurity And Turmoil"

In a speech at an October 30 Iranian Army cadet commencement ceremony at Khatam Al-Anbia Air Defense Academy in Tehran, Khamenei pointed at the U.S., Israel, and Arab countries – hinting at Saudi funding – as causing the unrest in Iraq, and "recommended" that "those in Iraq and Lebanon who care about their countries" prioritize "remedy[ing] the insecurity."

Khamenei said: "I turn to those in Lebanon and Iraq who care about their countries. [Know] that the first priority is remedying the insecurity. Even the public in both these countries must know that the enemy is striving to confound the constitutional infrastructure and to create a vacuum in your countries. The only way the public can obtain their just demands is to pursue their actualization in legal frameworks."[4]

He tweeted a similar message:

Public calls by Khamenei to "those who care in Iraq and Lebanon" to act to end the "insecurity and turmoil" constitute a direct appeal to supporters of the Iranian regime in those countries – including the militias loyal to Iran – to act to suppress the demonstrations. It is expected that Iran will increasingly use these militias to do so as the unrest escalates.  

Analyst And IRGC Associate Hanizadeh On Khamenei's Statements: He "Warned Iraqi Officials... That The Problems Must Be Solved"

Hassan Hanizadeh, political analyst who is close to the IRGC, explained Khamenei's October 30 statements in an interview the same day with the Fars news agency: 

"Khamenei's statements on Lebanon and Iraq are absolutely strategic, and they were arrived at from the facts on the ground and the political facts in Iraq and Lebanon. Because both these countries comprise part of the resistance axis, at the same time an organized plot against them is being concocted, with the aim of harming the resistance axis. Over the past year, Izzat Ibrahim Al-Douri, deputy to the wretched Iraqi tyrant [the late deposed president Saddam Hussein], participated three times in meetings with officials of the American embassy in Iraq and in Al-Anbar province. They were preparing a joint plan to create unrest and genocide in Iraq.

"At the recent demonstrations and gatherings in Iraq, we clearly see the hand of elements from the Ba'th party and the Shi'ite streams that are identified with the American embassy.

"Khamenei – thanks to his profound familiarity with the magnitude of the American plots against the resistance axis – issued warnings that the public in both these countries must devote attention to security matters. Khamenei announced to the governments of Iraq and Lebanon that they must be responsible for the legitimate demands of the public and at the same time completely maintain the security matters and the red lines. Therefore, the demonstrations must not veer towards violence... The number of the security plots in Iraq and Lebanon is a very complex [matter], and this why Khamenei, by virtue of his highly valuable experience, has warned the officials of Iraq and Lebanon that these problems must be solved, so that neither of these countries suffer damage."[5]

Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Sheikh Al-Islam: "High Importance Must Be Assigned To Khamenei's Statements About The Need To Prioritize The Preservation Of Security For The Iraqi And Lebanese Peoples"

Hossein Sheikh Al-Islam, Iranian deputy foreign minister and former Iranian ambassador to Syria, also explained Khamenei's statements about Iraq and Lebanon. In an October 31 interview, he told the Fars news agency:

"The public in both these countries need to know that the enemy must not take advantage of this base of righteousness – because the enemy is actually ready and willing to leverage the current situation and to weaken the resistance axis. The incidents we are now witnessing in Lebanon and Iraq are in fact the enemy's exploitation of the just demands of the people. We must create strategic knowledge and awareness among the public [there], so that they will not allow the enemies of the resistance axis to take advantage of the situation.

"All countries in the resistance axis must help one another and must stamp out the unrest created by America, the Zionist regime, and some of the reactionaries in the region [i.e. Saudi Arabia]. Incidentally, the public in Lebanon and in Iraq must know that security is a very fundamental and vital matter and that it must not be forgotten in the heat of pursuing the demands, and harm [must not be] caused to the security of the two countries... High importance must be assigned to Khamenei's statements about the need to prioritize the preservation of security for the Iraqi and Lebanese peoples as they act to realize their just demands.

"The destruction of public property and infrastructure is the enemy's goal and plan. Therefore, the peoples in both countries must not lend a hand to the execution of this plot..."[6]

II. Calls In Iran To Iraqis To Take Over The U.S. Embassy In Baghdad

Hossein Shariatmadari, Editor Of Regime Mouthpiece Kayhan, To Iraqis: "Why Aren't You Closing The Gates Of This Spy Nest" – The U.S. Embassy In Baghdad

In two articles in the Iranian regime mouthpiece Kayhan, on October 5 and October 30, Hossein Shariatmadari, the newspaper's editor and a close associate of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, called on the Iraqis to take over the U.S. and Saudi Embassies in Baghdad, just as Iranians took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 in Iran's Islamic Revolution. He added that these embassies are plotting the unrest in Iraq and are centers for espionage against the Iraqi people.

On October 5, he wrote in an op-ed titled "Why Aren't You Closing The Gates Of This Spy Nest [a reference to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran]?":

"Now we must ask the young Iraqi revolutionaries: Why aren't you ending the presence in Baghdad of the U.S. Embassy – that nest in Baghdad of espionage and conspiracy against the oppressed Iraqi people's presence? Why aren't you eradicating and expelling this pus-filled wound from your sacred country? The defeat and removal from Iran of the American nest of spies brought us great achievements. Why should the young Iraqi revolutionaries prevent their sacred land from attaining this?"[7]

Shariatmadari: "We Expect The Masses Of Young Believing Revolutionaries In Iraq – One Of Whose Symbols Is The Hashd Al-Sha'bi Guards... – Not To Waste One Moment In Carrying Out" A Takeover Of The Embassies

Against the backdrop of the escalation of the unrest in Iraq, and days before the launch of celebrations in Iran marking the anniversary of the 1979 takeover, Shariatmadari, in an October 30 op-ed titled "You Have Taken Over A Good Place" – referencing a statement by the founder of Iran's Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover – again encouraged pro-Iran Iraqis, "symbolized by the Hashd Al-Sha'bi Guards," to take over the U.S. and Saudi Embassies in Baghdad. He said that the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia are behind what he called the handful of protestors in Iraq, and are funding the violent unrest against the Iraqi people. Occupying the U.S. and Saudi Embassies according to the Iranian model will, he said, bring Iraq many achievements, as the occupation of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran brought Iran. The op-ed appeared in the "Point" section of Kayhan. It stated:

"About a week ago, we addressed, in a short article titled 'Why Aren't You Closing The Gates Of This Spy Nest,' [the subject of] the recent unrest in Iraq. [In that article], I pointed out the slogans [shouted by] a handful of demonstrators, and came to the conclusion that these slogans cannot be the slogans and demands of the Iraqi people, and especially not of those who are striving to [attain] their legitimate demands. I wrote thusly in that article:

"'Is it possible to find a party, government, or political stream that fears the coalition of Iran, Iraq, and Syria – except for America, Europe, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the infidels in ISIS? Is anyone but them sorry about the presence of the zealous and believing young Iraqis in the Hashd Al-Sha'bi and their martyrdom in eradicating the barbaric terrorists of ISIS? Or has the unique presence of tens of millions of Shi'ites from all over the world in the Arba'een pilgrimage[8] become their nightmare?'

"And [in that article] I concluded that 'even if no proof is found of American, Israeli, Saudi, ISIS, and Ba'th interference and scheming in the recent unrest in Iraq, we actually have a great deal of such proof. A brief glance alone at these inciting slogans will leave not even the slightest doubt that this plot was planned and carried out by the evil Western-Hebrew-Arab coalition.'

"In the above article I recalled the occupation of the Americans' spy nest that Khomeini called 'the second revolution,' and I asked: '[Oh you] young believing revolutionaries of Iraq, who in recent years have carried out dozens of outstanding heroic acts through martyrdom – Why aren't you ending the presence in Baghdad of the U.S. Embassy – that nest of espionage and conspiracy against the oppressed Iraqi people? Why aren't you eradicating and expelling this pus-filled wound from your sacred country? Why aren't you throwing them out? The defeat and removal from Iran of the American nest of spies brought us great achievements. Why should the young Iraqi revolutionaries prevent their sacred land from attaining this?

"It should be noted that Khomeini sent a message via his son Ahmad to the students who took over the American nest of spies, and this is what it said: 'Tell them, You have taken over a good place, hold fast to it.' In a speech addressed to them, he said: 'The thing is that this place that you call the embassy and we call a nest of spies has been seized by a group of our young people who saw that it was an espionage center, not an embassy – in the guise of an embassy, they [i.e. the Americans] established a center for espionage and for scheming, not only against Iran but also against the entire region, and anyone found there is a spy.'

"As of today, all the evidence clearly proves that the recent plot in Iraq is operated by the U.S. and Saudi Embassies in Iraq. Therefore, it is possible to conclude beyond a doubt that the first and most urgent step in the struggle against the recent unrest in Iraq is to take over both these centers of corruption and scheming. We expect the masses of young believing revolutionaries in Iraq – one of whose symbols is the Hashd Al-Sha'bi Guards [a reference to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)], with all its heroic deeds – not to waste one moment in carrying out this important deed [i.e. taking over the U.S. and Saudi Embassies] and not to abandon that part of the oppressed Iraqi people that went out to achieve their legitimate demands to the plots of the Westerners, Hebrews, and Arabs and the barbaric and blood-spilling rabble of ISIS and the Ba'th Party."[9]

Ayatollah Ali Sa'idi: The Iraqis Must Learn From The Iranians

On November 1, 2019, the Friday preacher for the city of Qom, Ayatollah Ali Sa'idi, who is Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's representative in the city, also urged the Iraqi people to take over the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as the Iranians had on November 4, 1979. Calling it the source of all strife in Iraq, he said that the Iraqis should draw lessons from Iran.

To view this clip on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

III. Iran's Threat To Respond To U.S. Aggression In Iraq

Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi emphasized that if the U.S. were to attack Iran, Iran would respond on Iraqi soil and wherever there is an American presence. Masjedi, a former IRGC general who was also advisor to Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, said in a September 26, 2019 interview on Iraq's Dijlah TV that Iran would respond to any American attack in any location that the Americans are present, including Iraqi soil, but that this does not constitute interference in Iraqi affairs. He added that an Iranian response to an American attack would be followed by a response from "those who love Iran," such as Hizbullah in Lebanon, the Hashd Al-Sha'bi in Iraq, and Ansar Allah (Houthis) in Yemen. These groups, he said, would retaliate of their own accord because of their love for Iran.

View this clip on MEMRI TV here or below:

IV. Iranian Expressions Of Anger That Iraqi Regime Has Not Protected Iranian Interests In Iraq 

On July 31, 2019, the Iranian Foreign Ministry publication Iran Diplomacy published an article by its editor Ali Mousavi Khalkhali expressing the Iranian regime's ire at the Iraqi regime officials' decision not to respond to apparent Israeli bombings of Iranian bases and interests in Iraq, among them a Hashd Al-Sha'bi base, that also involved the killing of dozens of IRGC officers. Reminding the Iraqi leadership of its expressed commitment to not allow foreign troops to turn Iraq into a battlefield for regional disputes, he even threatened the Iraqi government with an Iranian military response because Shi'ite officials in the Iraqi regime had kept silent over the Western attacks on Iran's interests on Iraqi soil. The following are excepts from his article:

"The attack on the Hashd Al-Sha'bi bases is not something that Iran can quietly overlook and not respond to – particularly because these attacks were near the Iranian border, and this is considered a direct threat to Tehran. The Iraqi government has chosen to remain silent, and allowed Israel to carry out an attack on its soil – but if Iran were to respond in kind, would Iraq be able to accept such an operation? Doesn't this mean that the Iraqi government has not acted like it said it would when it underlined that it would not allow a foreign force to use its land against its neighbors, since it itself is providing a [staging] area for conflicts with the powers in the region?"

Referring to a written message that he alleges the U.S. conveyed to Iraqi officials stating that it "was not involved in these attacks" and adding that "it is clear that Israel could not have carried out these attacks without a green light from America," Khalkhali said: "But the question that is most bothersome [with regard to these attacks] is why have Iraqi officials so far not explicitly addressed this matter? Why hasn't the Iraqi government yet taken a special stand on this matter? [This,] even though Iraqi officials – [from] Hakamat Party leader Omar Hakim to Badr organization leader Hadi Al-'Amari to Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi to Iraqi President Barham Salih – have emphasized the need to distance Iraq from all tensions in the region and have said that they will not allow Iraq to be a place for settling foreign political accounts and will not allow Iraqi soil to constitute a threat to its neighbors. So why did the Iraqi government not respond at all in this matter – and even appeared to be attempting to look the other way regarding the attack?"[10]

V. Iran-Backed Shi'ite Militia Hashd Al-Sha'bi Threats Against The U.S.

The following are MEMRI reports on threats to the U.S. by the Iran-backed Shi'ite Hashd Al-Sha'bi militia:

Appendix I: MEMRI Reports On Iraq's Importance To Iran

The following are MEMRI reports from January through March 2019 about Iraq's strategic importance to the Iranian regime:

Appendix II: MEMRI Reports On Iran's Export Of Its Islamic Revolution To Iraq And The Region

Notable quotes from the above report:

Rahim Safavi, Advisor To Iran's Chief Of Staff: "Without building a civilization, we cannot influence developments in the world and in the region. For this reason, the Americans fear not our strength but our capability of building a civilization. Today, a united Islamic army has been created in Syria. Today, we have succeeded in reaching the Mediterranean, by using our ideological strength."

Amir Abdallahian, Special Aide To The Majlis Speaker: "The Islamic Revolution created a new political-security order in the region. Over the past seven years, 81 countries have tried to bring down the political regime in Iran, as in Syria, but without success. The new political order that is based on the resistance axis has managed to break ISIS's bones and force American to abandon its game in the region and in Syria because of its high cost...

"Today, [President] Trump does not dare enter Baghdad, and this is America's weakness. This is at a time when Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani, who is tracked by dozens of enemy security apparatuses, easily enters the most dangerous places in this region. All these are America's weak points, and Iran's strong points. Iran's friends and enemies know that the new political and security arrangements called the 'resistance axis' are playing a crucial role in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon... The plan to partition Syria and Iraq was meant to conclude with partitioning Iran. This matter was a common threat to all three countries – but at the moment of truth, Khamenei said that the Iranians must go to Syria and Iraq and do something to protect the security of Iran and the region. The result was that today we are witnessing the defeat of ISIS in Syria and in Iraq. Forty years after the revolution, Iran is not defending itself from within its borders – it is defending the country from hundreds of kilometers away... "The Islamic Revolution has transformed the traditional hegemonic game of American in the world. The situation created for Trump in Iraq will undoubtedly happen to others as well. Iran will present a successful example in all arenas for centuries [to come], until the coming of the Imam Mahdi."


[1] Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed, (London), November 5, 2019.

[2] Examples of these reports in the press affiliated with the resistance axis: On October 31, 2019, the London-based Al-Rai Al-Yawm daily wrote, citing sources close to two influential Iraqi senior officials in Iraq that Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani had held a meeting in Baghdad the previous day in order to prevent the ouster of Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi because of the protests in the country. It was also reported that a senior Iranian security official said that Soleimani had attended a meeting of Hashd Al-Sha'bi officials in Baghdad., October 31, 2019. The London-based Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed also reported, on October 31, that two senior Iraqi officials in Baghdad, one of them very high-ranking in the office of the prime minister, had denied reports that Soleimani had led the meeting of Iraqi armed forces and security officials in Baghdad but did not deny that Iranian officials had offered them assistance in the struggle to put down the protests. Sources close to the Hashd Al-Sha'bi told the newspaper that Soleimani had visited Iraq on October 15 as well and met with several Hashd Al-Sha'bi officials and with political figures in the Al-Jadariya neighborhood of Baghdad but did not meet with Iraqi security or military officials. It was reported also that on all his visits to Iraq, Soleimani stayed at an apartment near the headquarters of the Iran-backed Badr Organization militia and also near the headquarters of the pro-Iran Asa'ib Ahl Al-Haq militia, and at the home of Hashd Al-Shabi deputy commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis on a fortified street., October 31, 2019. 

[3] ILNA (Iran), October 31, 2019.

[4], October 30, 2019.

[5] Fars (Iran), October 30, 2019.

[6] Fars (Iran), October 31, 2019.

[7] Kayhan (Iran), October 5, 2019.

[8] The Arbaeen Pilgrimage is a political/religious march from Najaf, Iran to Karbala, Iraq, established by the Iranian regime to mark the anniversary of the 40th day after the death of the Third Shi'ite Imam Hussain bin Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE. The Iranian regime is promoting this pilgrimage as a rival to the hajj to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

[9] Kayhan (Iran), October 30, 2019.

[10] Iran Diplomacy (Iran), July 31, 2019.

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