In Lebanon and in Iraq, millennials have taken to the streets to protest their respective governments. It stands to reason — in both countries, services are minimal, jobs are non-existent, and the best way to make a living is to leave. Garbage piles up in the streets of Beirut and forest fires have decimated the country. In Iraq, corruption is endemic. But in both countries, there is more afoot.
The demonstrators, representing a variety of religious and ethnic groups in countries that have been wracked by sectarian fighting, are in agreement that the presence of Iran and its proxies in their homelands has deformed politics and economics alike.
Young people want Iran out.
Association with the Islamic Republic means that assets are taken and used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, not by the civilian government, and it means religious and ethnic tensions are stoked to ensure that a unified public cannot impede Iran’s regional ambitions. Iran wants Iraq for the oil and also for the passageway through Sunni territory to Syria, Lebanon, and the Mediterranean Sea. It helped create the instability of ISIS in Iraq by “offering” to help contain the threat via Shiite militias commanded by Iranian officers. Those Shiite militias remain in the largely Sunni western part of Iraq and in the Kurdish areas.
The story in Lebanon goes back farther — to the early days of the Islamic Republic. Iran created Hezbollah and had its hand in the 1982 Marine barracks bombing that killed 244 Americans. It fostered and enlarged Hezbollah and planted an arsenal of rockets and missiles in southern Lebanon (in violation of U.N. Resolution 1701) and missile factories closer to Beirut. Lebanese civilians live between the Iranian/Hezbollah arsenal and potential Israeli retaliation if that arsenal is used.
Permanent revolution, permanent warfare, permanent upheaval — stoked by an outside force — makes it impossible to create the workable, modern, growing economy millennials demand; particularly in Lebanon, where there is a well-educated generation that crosses sectarian divides.
Hezbollah, leading the Lebanese government, has long insisted that it “serves the people.” Most European countries still won’t label the totality of Hezbollah a terror organization because, they said, it provided services to the poor. Today, Hezbollah not only is not delivering, it stands against the protesters to shore up its own power and the people know it. Protests are in Hezbollah territory in the south: Nabatiyeh, Bint Jbeil, and Tyre. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has been directly criticized. The Lebanese government announced it will meet with protesters and has suggested a government reshuffle is possible, but lately, black-shirted Nasrallah supporters have been trying to break up demonstrations.
Protesters are flying the rarely seen flag of Lebanon rather than sectarian or party flags. One protester told another not to tell journalists his ethnic/religious identity, lest it be interpreted as the cause of the protest.
In Iraq, protesters have gathered in Basra — the Shiite south of Iraq — as well as in Baghdad. The Internet was suspended early in the uprising, leaving much of the reporting in the hands of Twitter and calls abroad. Entifadh Qanbar, a U.S. citizen of Iraqi origin, and president of the Future Foundation, keeps track of the growing number of demonstrations in the capital at @eqanbar. He notes the prevalence of millennials in the overnight demonstrations and, as an aside, that Iraqis (43%) more than people in the UAE (42%), Morocco (41%), or Saudi Arabia (23%), favor establishing relations with Israel.
Private security firm Gardaworld has been running a crisis update from its people in Iraq. Its report on October 25th included:
At least three people were killed and 40 others wounded in Nasiriyah (Dhi Qar province), when the Asas’ig Ahl al-Haq militia reportedly opened fire into a crowd of protesters attempting to break into the Shiite militia grou’’s local offices. Police sources stated that 18 additional protesters were wounded attempting to break into the militia grou’s local offices in Amarah (Maysan province). Protesters in Nasiriyah also set fire to local Dhi Qar province government buildings. Similar protests have been reported in Samaswah (Multhanna province) and in Najaf, Wasit, and Basra provinces.
All in the Shiite south. This fits with an earlier report that Iraqis had attacked an Iranian arms depot at Al Madaein southwest of Baghdad. To Qanbar, it signals a great split in the Shiite world — 20 million Iraqis are Shiite.
In Baghdad, Reuters reports that Iran-backed snipers are stationed on rooftops, killing protesters. While the Iraqi government acknowledges that some 100 protesters have been killed, Qanbar believes the number to be closer to 500. Whatever the number, the Iraqi government announced it would prosecute more than a dozen military and police commanders.
“This must stop,” said Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the top U.N. official in Iraq, calling for those behind the violence to be held responsible. If she means the demonstrators — or even the Iraqi government — then she is working the back end of the problem.
Iran is responsible and the people know it.
Shoshana Bryen is senior director of The Jewish Policy Center in Washington, D.C.