Iraq anti-govt protesters say US-Iran tensions won't derail rallies

January 01, 2020

DIWANIYAH - For months, their rallying cry has been "We want our country!" Now, Iraq's anti-government demonstrators insist they won't let the dramatic escalation between the United States and Iran steal their thunder.

The youth-dominated demonstrations have rocked Baghdad and Iraq's Shiite-majority south since early October in outrage over government graft, a lack of jobs and the political influence of neighboring Iran.

They have long been wary of political factions trying to coopt their movement and are now digging in their heels even further, saying their cause will not be derailed by a looming proxy war between Washington and Iran.

Tensions have escalated since a volley of rockets killed an American contractor in Iraq last week.

This prompted the US to respond days later with air strikes that killed more than two dozen pro-Iran fighters of Iraq's Hashed Al-Shaabi military network.

On Tuesday, pro-Tehran demonstrators attempted to storm the US embassy in Baghdad, just across the river Tigris from the main anti-regime protest camp in Tahrir Square.

"Some sides are trying to drag the protests in other directions," said Alaa Sattar, a demonstrator in Tahrir.

"But the position of the protests in Tahrir has been very clear since October 1: Iraq should not be an arena for score-settling or US-Iranian conflicts," he told AFP.

Demonstrators would stay in the streets, Sattar pledged, until early parliamentary elections produce a government "loyal only to Iraq".

Baghdad has close political and military ties to both Tehran and Washington, but those two powers have been at loggerheads since the US withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal with Iran in 2018.

Iraq has feared that a proxy war between its two allies could play out on its soil, destabilizing a country only just getting back on its feet after years of unrest and a devastating fight against the Islamic State group. -AFP

January 01, 2020
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