Iran rejects Trump warning after Baghdad embassy protests

Pro-Iranian demonstrators withdraw after violence at US embassy in Iraq

Pro-Iranian militiamen and their supporters set a fire during a sit-in in front of the US embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, on New Year’s Day. Photograph: AP

Pro-Iranian militiamen and their supporters set a fire during a sit-in in front of the US embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, on New Year’s Day. Photograph: AP

 

US-Iran tensions escalated on New Year’s Day as Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed US president Donald Trump’s tweet that Iran would pay a “big price” for violent demonstrations outside the US embassy in Baghdad.

Mr Khamenei responded: “You can’t do anything. If the Islamic Republic decides to challenge and fight, it will do so unequivocally.”

In an attempt to contain the situation, Iraq’s paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Forces urged supporters protesting against US air strikes on pro-Iranian fighters to withdraw from their camp at the edge of the embassy compound. The coalition of mainly Shia militias issued the call when demonstrators threw stones at the heavily fortified compound and Iraqi security forces fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. All but 200 demonstrators left. Late on Wednesday night the remaining protesters withdrew.

On Tuesday hundreds threw petrol bombs and rocks into the compound and breached the outer wall to protest against Sunday’s US air raids on Iraqi military bases which killed 25 members of Kataeb Hizbullah, a prominent Shia militia with representation in a powerful parliamentary faction.

The US strikes were in retaliation for the death of a US contractor during rocket attacks on Iraqi bases hosting US forces. Iraq’s caretaker prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, who resigned in November, has condemned US strikes as a violation of the country’s sovereignty but can do little or nothing to halt rocket attacks on US personnel or curb the US use of air power. The US deployment of 5,200 troops in Iraq and Iran’s call for full US withdrawal from Iraq has put the government between a rock and a hard place.

Poor services and unemployment

In Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, protesters slammed the violent assault on the embassy. While they do not adopt pro-US positions and eschew US backing, the protesters demand an end to Iranian influence in Iraq, ouster of the Shia funda- mentalist-dominated government, and overthrow of the sectarian system of governance. Ironically, Iran’s regional antagonist, the US imposed on Iraq the sectarian polity which has given Iran a leading role in Iraq since the 2003 US occupation. Protesters complain that this regime produces mismanagement, corruption and a lack of services and jobs.

The protesters have also suffered at the hands of Iran’s allies. Since their uprising began on October 1st, the mainly Shia demonstrators who have taken to the streets and squares in Baghdad and the Shia-majority south have been arrested, beaten and shot by Iraqi security forces and pro-Iran Shia militiamen who seek to preserve the regime and protect Iran’s role in Iraqi affairs. At least 521 have been killed and 17,000-20,000 wounded.