Senior Iranian cleric claims Iraq protests being manipulated to stop pilgrims

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The protests in Iraq are being taken advantage of by “enemies” of the country including the US and international media outlets, senior Iranian cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said on Friday, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

These “enemies” were using the protests to pursue their own goals and prevent Shias from participating in the Arbaeen Pilgrimage, a Shia religious ceremony, said Khatami, who is a senior member of the Assembly of Experts.

Speaking during his Friday prayer sermon in Tehran, Khatami divided the apparent forces behind the Iraqi protests into three elements: Western enemies (the US, UK, and Israel), Saudi Arabia, and media outlets including CNN, the BBC, and Al Arabiya. He also included elements of Iraq's Ba’ath Party, which opposes Iran’s presence in the country, in the third group.

According to Khatami, these actors are concerned about Iraq’s closeness to the “Resistance Axis,” the term Iran uses to describe its network of proxies, allies, and terrorist organizations in the region.

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.

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.

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 has sent 7,500 members of its special unit law enforcement force to Iraq, according to the force’s commander, under the pretext of providing security for the Arbaeen Pilgrimage.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had called the anti-government protests in Iraq a “conspiracy” by the enemies and an attempt to “sow discord” between Iran and Iraq.

In another part of his speech, Khatami addressed Turkey’s military operations in Syria.

“Turkey’s action translates to an invasion of an independent state,” he said, adding that “the Islamic Republic calls for a halt to these operations and the withdrawal of [Turkish] troops from Syria.”

“Turkey should be careful not to fall into America’s trap,” said Khatami.

Turkey launched a military offensive into north-eastern Syria on Wednesday. Turkish forces are attacking positions controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The incursion into Syrian territory has been widely condemned internationally. Republicans in the US House of Representatives are also seeking sanctions on Turkey in response to the offensive.