Iran sent thousands of troops to Iraq for Shia pilgrimage: Iranian commander

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Iran has sent 7,500 members of its special unit law enforcement force to Iraq, according to the force’s commander, amid accusations from Iraqi protesters that Iranians have been directly involved in the crackdown on the protests in Iraq.

Iran is sending these forces to provide security for the Arbaeen Pilgrimage, a Shia religious ceremony, claimed the commander of the “special unit law enforcement force” Gen. Hassan Karami, reported the semi-official Mehr news agency on Monday.

Iran also has undercover agents in the crowds to control the situation, he said.

The special unit law enforcement force is responsible for dealing with protests in the country, and it was heavily involved in the crackdown on the protests that broke out in Iran between December 2017 and January 2018 in over 100 cities.

During those protests, 30 Iranians were killed and over 5000 were arrested, 50 of whom were tortured to death.

The thousands of Iranian forces sent to Iraq have been sent to help suppress the current protests in the country, say some observers.

The Iraqi protesters have accused Iran of being directly involved in the crackdown of their protests.

An Iraqi protester interviewed by Reuters on October 3 said that Farsi-speaking Iranians, not Iraqi forces, have been shooting at people during Iraq’s recent deadly protests.

“There is no work, you come to protest, they fire at you. Live gunfire. They are all Iranian speaking in Farsi. You want to speak to them they answer in Farsi. The Iraqis would not fire at you,” the Iraqi protester told Reuters.

At least 110 people have been killed across Iraq and more than 6,000 wounded, with protesters demanding the removal of Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi and a government they accuse of corruption.

Iraqis have also been shouting slogans against the Iranian presence in their country. Videos of the protests on social media show protesters tearing images of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the Shia holy city of Karbala.

Iran is influential in Iraq, including military personnel on the ground. Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi is a former member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a Shia political party with close ties to Iran.

Many of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) militias are loyal to Iran, and the PMU’s deputy commander Jamal Jaafar al-Ibrahimi – known by his nom de guerre Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes – is a key Iranian ally. Mohandes is also the leader of Katai’b Hezbollah, the terrorist organization accused of attacking Saudi Arabian oil pipelines in May.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is also influential in Iraq. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, has repeatedly travelled to Iraq in violation of UNSCR 2231, which established a travel ban as part of the Iran nuclear deal.

Khamenei, in his first reaction to the violence in Iraq, has called the protests a “conspiracy” by the enemies and an attempt to “sow discord” between Iran and Iraq.

Hossein Shariatmadari, one Khamenei’s representatives, and the head of Iran’s hardline Kayhan newspaper, had reiterated accusations by top Iranian officials claiming that the protests in Iraq were instigated “by America and foreign elements,” and called on Iraqis to “occupy the US embassy like the Iranians did in 1979.”

A senior Iranian cleric and member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts’ presiding board accused Saudi Arabia and the US of being behind the protests in Iraq.

The Iraqi protesters had seen “special training in American and Saudi camps,” Ayatollah Abbas Ka’bi told the semi-official Fars news agency on Saturday.