U.S. Ambassador to Iraq condemns killing and kidnapping of Iraqi protesters

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Matthew Tueller speaks to reporters at the Erbil Citadel on November 6th, 2019. Photo: social media.
By The Free Iranian Staff


On Wednesday, November 6th, Matthew H. Tueller, the American ambassador to Iraq, condemned the Iraqi government’s violent response to the protests that have been going on across the country for the past month. “We have … repeatedly stressed how important it is that in responding to this type of protest that the (Iraqi) government respect international norms of human rights. In terms of indiscriminate killings, kidnappings, some of the things that deeply, deeply concerned Iraqis themselves in the first wave of protest and even now in the second wave of protest, we see really unacceptable levels of deaths,” Teuller said. The ambassador was speaking at a meeting of the Middle East Research Institute Forum in Erbil, located in the Kurdish self-governing region of northern Iraq.

As fighting continued in the streets of most major Iraqi cities, and the death toll continues to climb, the US embassy in Baghdad also released a statement today calling on the Iraqi government to “engage seriously and urgently with Iraqi citizens who are demanding reform.” The statement also attacked the “killing and kidnapping of unarmed protesters, threats to freedom of expression, and the cycle of violence taking place.”

The major grievance propelling the Iraqi demonstrations is the interference in Iraqi affairs by the Khomeiniist regime of neighboring Tehran which, through its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force, and the autonomous Shi’a militia forces the IRGC created and armed, has treated Iraq as a vassal state. The current Iraqi cabinet was installed by Tehran in 2016, with the help of its largest proxy militia, the Hashd al Shaabi, after a disputed election, during which the commander of the Qods Force, Qassem Soleimani, took charge of governing-forming negotiations. The IRGC is said by both the protestors on the streets, and the Iraqi government, to be the main instigators of the violence during the past month, as IRGC officers and Shi’a militia fighters have been donning Iraqi police and army uniforms, joining the ranks of security forces, and prevailing upon them to shoot at crowds. The annual Shi’a religious pilgrimage to Karbala, in the middle of October, known as the Arba’een, was also seen by Iraqis as a way for Tehran to introduce more covert agents into Iraq, under the guise of pilgrims.

Qassem Soleimani, who coordinated the first wave of protest suppression at the beginning of October, also personally took charge over the Iraqi’s government response to the events of last week, when the protests began to escalate again. On October 30th, Soleimani flew to Baghdad and sat at the head of an Iraqi cabinet meeting, displacing Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi from his chair, and ordered the Iraqi government forces to take a harsher response to the demonstrators. Soleimani is also said to have preserved Abdul-Mahdi’s government’s existence, for the moment. The Prime Minister had previously offered to resign but is staying on, apparently, as a result of the IRGC’s demand.

Tueller alluded to this in his speech, when he said; “increasingly, I do sense there are some activities going on that aren’t under full control of the government or anybody else, but some protest leaders, figures, activists who are disappearing or are receiving intimidation, extortion.” The Tehran-backed militias have also been engaging in acts of terrorism, bombing independent media outlets and political organizations, as well as kidnapping activists and protest leaders. On Sunday, a doctor, Saba al Mahdawi, who had gained fame for treating wounded protestors when hospital refused to admit them, was abducted by masked men, and no news has been heard from her since.

The Tehran regime, which as a matter of course attributes all opposition to it as manifestations of a “foreign conspiracy,” has accused the United States of fomenting the Iraqi protests, and has called on its forces in Iraq to attack the American embassy there. The Iraqi people, however, showed what they thought of those remarks by stepping up their anti-Tehran actions. Photographs of Tehran’s leader, Ali Khamenei, and Soleimani, were burned in the streets, and an Iranian consulate in Karbala was stormed by a crowd of protestors.

American leaders, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have come out publicly against Tehran’s maneuvers, and according to some Iraqi observers, it is the US that has prevented Tehran’s proxies from cracking down on the protests even more harshly than they are.

Meanwhile, battles between demonstrators and the Shi’a militias raged today, with no end to the clashes in sight. Three more people were killed, and the total death toll from the month-long fighting has surpassed 260. The protestors have also released a 10-point list of demands. In addition to a new government, constitution, and internationally-supervised free elections, they are also seeking the separation of mosque from state. The Internet remains blocked throughout the country.

Soleimani, it was reported today, spent the weekend in Najaf, the center of the Shi’a community, attempting to repair relations between Iraqi Shi’a clerics and Tehran. The clerics, formerly pro-Tehran to the max, have become leaders of the uprising against it after becoming angered by the IRGC’s heavy handed and exploitative behaviors towards Iraqis.

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