How street protests across Middle East threaten Iran’s power

By | November 24, 2019

Martin Chulov writes:

Turmoil in Baghdad, paralysis in Beirut and flames of unrest in Tehran; it has been a bad few months for Iran at home and elsewhere in the Middle East, where more than a decade of advances are being slowed, not by manoeuvrings on battlefields or legislatures – but the force of protest movements.

Early last week, Iran went dark for four days by closing its internet connections down. Even for the country’s autocratic leadership, this was a drastic step. But such are the stakes for a regime that is increasingly facing obstacles across its hubs of Shia influence. And those who laud Iran’s rise, as well as those who fear it, sense it is at a loss over how to respond.

The reaction to relentless anti-government protests in Iraq, which along with Lebanon is essential to Iran’s foreign projection, has so far been straight from a well-worn playbook. The initial weeks of the popular uprising were met with placatory speeches from Iraqi leaders, and a passive stance from security forces. But that changed in late-October and, since then, more than 300 people have been killed and thousands wounded as Iraq’s leaders – directed by Iran’s generals have changed tack.

Gone is any notion of compromise. Instead, the din of bullets, grenades and sirens have become a soundtrack to demonstrations in Baghdad demanding the overthrow of the entire political system. While the protests are aimed at domestic issues – the insatiable graft of its leaders and widespread lack of opportunities for the young central to them – the post-Saddam years have seen Iran embed itself in nearly all aspects of Iraqi governance.

Its role as overlord has also raised the protesters’ ire – just as it has in Lebanon, where Iran’s most important arm of its foreign policy projection, Hezbollah, plays a dominant role in the country’s affairs.

Since the US-led invasion that ousted the Iraqi leader and especially since the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq in 2011, Iran had methodically consolidated itself in both countries. The war in Syria gave its regional gains even more impetus, as did the war against Isis, which allowed its proxy forces to establish footholds in the plains of western Iraq and eastern Syria as they helped defeat the terror group. [Continue reading…]

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