By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
*This article appeared in a slightly different form as ‘Iraq’s Pro-Iranian politician Amiri blames US-Israel for protests’ at The Jerusalem Post
Hadi al-Amiri, the head of the Badr Organization, and leader of Iraq’s second largest political party, blamed the US and Israel for instigating protests in Iraq. Protests in Iraq erupted on Friday, weeks after similar protests led to the death of more than 150. Protesters have said they were targeted by snipers from Iranian-backed militias. Hadi al-Amiri’s Fatah Alliance has links to the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), a group of Shi’ite militias that are close to Iran. Amiri (هادی العامری) is a key ally of Iran in Iraq and his Badr’s organization’s offices have been burned and attacked by protesters.
Tasnim News in Iraq reported on Saturday that Amiri believes that Iraq is the “subject of a major sedition that the US and Israel are behind.” He was speaking during the funeral of Wisam al-Alawi, a member of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, one of the groups that is part of the PMU. Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s office in Misan had been attacked by protesters and the local leader had been killed. Amiri attended the funeral alongside Qais Khazali, head of AAH. Khazali was formerly detained by the Americans in the early 2000s after his militia targeted Americans and Iraqi police. Amiri served alongside Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the 1980s fighting against Saddam Hussen’s Iraq. Now both Amiri and Khazali have powerful paramilitary groups that receive government salaries after the PMU was officially integrated into the security forces in 2018.
Alawi, the AAh member killed this week, had joined AAH in 2014 after Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for men to help fight ISIS. Khazali said the threats against AAH by protesters would be turned into an opportunity. Amiri argued that outside forces were seeking to drag Iraq into chaos. According to Tasnim he said that “retribution will be taken against the US and Israel.”
Protesters in Iraq are angered at the sectarian oligarchy that runs the country and have targeted parties associated with Iran. Many of the protesters come from Shi’ite areas and they argue that corruption and stagnation are taking away their hopes and dreams. When protests erupted in early October the government cut the internet and snipers shot hundreds of people. Later reports emerged that Badr and other Shi’ite pro-Iranian groups were behind the shootings. This led to outrage and vows to continue the protests on October 25. Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the largest party in parliament, has supported the protesters and sent his militia to support them. Party offices have been attack on Friday and Saturday, including Badr’s office in Diwaniyeh. Amiri has called for his Badr members in Diyala province to be wary of assassinations.
Amiri and others fear the protests could topple the government and he has spoke out against them. But he also know Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is relatively weak. Calls for revenge on Saturday by Amiri and Khazali threaten to escalate the rhetoric against protesters. Already dozens of protesters have been reported killed, some shot in the head by tear gas canisters. There are reports that Sadr’s Saraya al-Salam militia has clashed with Badr in the town of AlAmarah, also known as Kut. Protesters set fire to Badr’s party headquarters in Kut on Friday. In Diwanyeh, where another Badr office was attacked, Tasnim reports that the protests began peacefully but “elements” from outside entered and radicalized them. Iran is concerned about the protests, especially attacks on pro-Iranian groups. Iran’s Press TV has claimed that protesters are armed.
However protesters continue to tell media that they are being targeted by groups such as Badr and other elements of the PMU. Badr’s decision to blame the US and Israel is part of a larger rhetoric in Iraq blaming Israel and the US for attacks on munitions bases of the PMU in July and August. Badr and Iraq’s Prime Minister have blamed the US and Israel. Kata’ib Hezbollah, an ally of Badr and AAH threatened the US and Israel in July. The US has sanctioned AAH as a terrorist organization and sanctioned the head of Kata’ib Hezbollah, as well as other members of PMU. The US has not sanctioned Badr, despite the threats and links to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the US sanctioned earlier this year.
Kataib Hezbollah also blamed the US and Israel in a statement, saying “We have warned against the need for vigilance against the mercenaries of the Saudi-American Zionist evil and those who seek to exploit demonstrations to carry out a subversive plan in Iraq.”