Security

Anger escalates in Iraqi street over Iran-backed armed militias

By Hassan al-Obeidi in Baghdad

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Iraqi demonstrators gather in al-Tayaran Square in central Baghdad on July 28th during ongoing protests. [Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP]

The assassination of Iraqi extremism expert Hisham al-Hashemi and later the kidnapping of German humanitarian activist Hella Mewis in Baghdad have reignited Iraqis' anger towards Iran-backed armed militias.

These militias have been widely blamed for a spate of kidnappings and assassinations in Iraq since popular protests broke out late last year.

With the two latest incidents, Iraqis went to online forums to express their anger towards Iran's affiliates -- which they now call various derogatory names such as "Rahbar Gangs" (in reference to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei), "Soleimani's Orphans" (in reference to former commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force Qassem Soleimani) and the "Tails of Iran".

Iraqis have expressed much of their anger on social media by talking about the militias' crimes, defiance of the law and undermining of the state, but observers say the anger on the street is much greater than that expressed in the virtual world.

The investigation into the assassination of al-Hashemi indicates the involvement of an armed militia supported by Iran, a senior official in the Iraqi Ministry of Interior told Diyaruna on condition of anonymity.

Al-Hashemi had exposed the threat posed by these militias to Iraq's future, security and economy, he said.

The police and intelligence services are analysing information indicating that al-Hashemi had received new threats from Kataib Hizbullah, he said.

There are also indications that a militia was involved in Mewis' abduction with the motive of blackmail and of embarrassing the government, he said.

Iraqis reject Iran-backed militias

"Iraqis have been protesting against Iranian militias via social networking sites... with a wave of anger and responses that demonstrate the extent of their contempt for the militias that are collaborating with foreign forces against their country," said Ahmed al-Saadi, a member of the Iraqi Civil Current and an activist with the Tahrir Square Co-ordination Committees in Baghdad.

"The repeated bombardment of the Green Zone and government buildings, the threats to security, defiance of the law, and the assassinations and kidnappings of those who oppose the militias or reject Iran's interference have become the hallmarks of the Iran-affiliated militias," he told Diyaruna.

"The Iraqi street today feels that its future is threatened by these militias and rejects them."

"People in Baghdad and southern Iraq in particular, whom the militias claim to be defending because they belong to the same sect as them, no longer recognise these groups," he said.

Iraqis "feel that they owe [a debt of gratitude] to those who fought ISIS and sacrificed for Iraq, not those who sold themselves to Iran", he said.

The people differentiate well between those who defended their homeland and those who turned that slogan -- namely, the defence of the country -- into a slogan to promote Iran's interests, he said.

"The emergence of the derogatory names used to refer to these militias... and their widespread use in the Iraqi street in the recent period is remarkable," said Iraqi security expert Fouad Ali.

In addition, the militias' propaganda directed at the Iraqi populace "is no longer convincing and no one pays attention to it", he told Diyaruna.

No difference between ISIS and militias

"The current period is similar to the period when the terrorist groups in northern and western Iraq were exposed [for what they truly are] and people began to hate them and their slogans," Ali said.

Iraqis' anger and negative sentiments towards the militias are clearly escalating, he said, and the situation has reached the point where many militia members are concealing their affiliation and claiming that they serve in a regular security apparatus if they sense animosity from people or people refuse to deal with them in daily public life.

"The militia members in Iraq do not exceed 40,000 at most, but they are backed by Iran, and so they face rejection and are not seen as Iraqis or citizens loyal to their homeland but rather as tools" of Iran, said women's rights activist Iman Abbas.

"The level of awareness is growing as the abuses by these militias and their undermining of security escalate," she told Diyaruna.

"It can be said that they are the other face of ISIS in Iraq, so it is natural that they would be unwelcome," she said.

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