With the disintegration of their respective governments, Iraq and Lebanon have passed the point of no return. Yet furious protesters won’t accept the months of prevarication that habitually accompanies the formation of new governments, as corrupt vested interests haggle to secure maximum personal benefit.
This goes way beyond choices of prime minister. Iraqi and Lebanese citizens demand that the rotten, corrupt political order be burnt to the ground and replaced by sovereign and accountable governing systems, offering them prosperity, dignity and hope.
Hassan Nasrallah and Hadi Al-Amiri’s struggles to prop up governments whose leading ministers are clamoring to be allowed to resign demonstrates the irreplaceable stake pro-Iranian elements have in upholding the ugly, sectarianized status quo. These seasoned terrorists will fight tooth and nail to thwart change.
Demonstrators know that if they back down it could take generations for another comparably united grassroots movement to emerge. Although many originally came out over issues of jobs, the cost of living and failing services, the protests evolved into an existential confrontation with the agents of Iran and their malign impact on society.
The protesters express fury that their countries have been stolen, rendered unrecognizable by chronic Iranian manipulation. In a society where the strong expression of emotion is taboo, protesters in Basra have hugged their national flag and openly wept at the miserable, humiliating state they have been reduced to. In the sacred Shiite city of Karbala, incensed citizens have burned the Iranian flag and beaten their shoes against images of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Lebanese protesters chant that they will no longer accept the narratives of sectarian discord propagated by leaderships whose tribalist worldviews have failed to evolve since the 1980s.
The Quds Force’s Qassem Soleimani has made multiple visits to Iraq in recent weeks, meeting paramilitary leaders to orchestrate the campaign against the protests from a Green Zone operations room. Senior Iraqi security personnel were astonished to attend a meeting due to be chaired by Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, only to find Soleimani sitting in his place. Soleimani’s campaign included killing sprees by snipers and murderous attacks to break up protest camps and intimidate demonstrators. Army officers warned citizens against joining protests, with one declaring: “I swear by Allah that the militiamen and the snipers will kill you.”
Citizens have justice and weight of numbers on their side, but lack organizational direction. The creation of a loose cross-sectarian body representing protesters would be a huge step forward in sidelining corrupt factions that have perpetuated the sectarian discord.
Al-Amiri’s vision for “constitutional amendments” would mean the sidelining of Parliament and domination of the Iraqi state by pro-Iran elements; using paramilitary force to crush all opposition to Tehran-sanctioned dictatorship. We shouldn’t look for democratic roadmaps from someone with a CV built on sectarian cleansing and militancy, who, according to the constitution, should not even be allowed to participate in politics.
In comments inspired by his mentor Khamenei, Nasrallah blames the unrest on “agents of embassies,” claiming that a “political coup was being plotted in order to plunge the country into a vacuum.” He threatened that he had thus far prevented Hezbollah from genuinely flexing its muscles, but protesters would soon discover what the movement was capable of.
Nasrallah has already sent out his thugs to beat up congregations of female protesters, so is he threatening to ignite a Syria-style civil war? Nasrallah must know that such an eventuality would unite Lebanon against Hezbollah, including its erstwhile allies among the Christian population (about 40 percent of Lebanon’s population) and nationalist Shiites, whose eyes have been opened to the malign consequences of Iranian hegemony. Hezbollah may be armed to the teeth, but that won’t help it after the movement’s own actions render it a detested minority within a minority.
IMIS has become a gigantic millstone around the necks of Iraq’s Shiite communities: Dominating local economies, acting like mafia gangs to extort money out of local people, and submerging these communities in the worst forms of organized crime. This was consciously inspired by how Hezbollah operates in Lebanon, where it exploits its control of institutions and distribution networks to exclude other economic actors.
With funding from Tehran drying up in the context of renewed US sanctions, Hezbollah fails to materially benefit even its staunchest supporters, who lost sons during Hezbollah’s bloody Syrian odyssey and its battles with Israel. Nasrallah’s grassroots is realizing that the movement cannot be depended on. Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s long list of assassinations of journalists, politicians and national figures remains bitterly fresh in the collective Lebanese memory.
A new US State Department report again rates Iran as the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism, spending an estimated $1 billion annually to bankroll overseas proxies. Tehran won’t peacefully relinquish Arab nations, which it regards as indivisible components of its “axis of resistance.” Protesters must unitedly pursue their shared aspirations at the national level, to avoid the Iran Militia in Iraq and Syria (IMIS) and Hezbollah politically subverting these demands while forcibly regaining control of the streets.
The forthcoming battle will be bitterer than most people realize, yet it is unavoidable. Better it is waged now than after five or 20 years of Tehran’s theological vampires sucking the lifeblood from Arab nations. Syria and Yemen today lie in ruins (the direct consequence of Iran’s warmongering) and are unable to resist Tehran’s stifling embrace. Nevertheless, the ayatollahs should take heed of events in Lebanon and Iraq and know that, at some point in the future, their immense investments in exported arms and purchased political loyalties will be swept into the sea upon a tidal wave of popular anger. Tehran’s superficial regional supremacy will ultimately count for nothing, despite the millions of innocent lives squandered in pursuit of this goal. Instead of amassing staunch regional allies through policies of good-neighborliness, Iran will find itself mistrusted and shunned.
Iraq and Syria have undergone massive demographic displacements in Tehran’s favor. Allowing Iran to regain the initiative would entail its proxies embarking on new bouts of sectarian cleansing with a view to vengefully ensuring that Iran’s pre-eminence could never again be challenged.
This is an existential battle for the survival of national identity and sovereignty, vis-a-vis insidious creeping Iranian hegemony. It is now or never — do or die. The anti-Iran resistance movement of popular, peaceful protests must succeed. For those striving to regain their stolen nations, failure is not an option.