Protesters in Basra stormed the Iranian Consulate yesterday and set the building on fire. The protesters, who also set fire to headquarters of pro-Iranian militias as well as many government buildings, chanted “Iran out.” They also trampled portraits of Iran’s ruler, Ayatollah Khamenei
Basra is a majority Shiite city. Thus, as the Washington Post says, the attack on the consulate. . .upended notions of solidarity between Iraq’s Shiite heartland and Iran, the preeminent Shiite power in the region, a dubious notion all along.
Iran’s position in Iraq is not as secure as many commentators, both liberal and conservative, claim. Indeed, its position in the entire region has eroded, as I discussed several months ago. The same is true of the regime’s standing at home, where Iranian protesters echo the view of those in Iraq that the mullahs should halt their foreign adventurism.
However, there is an ominous element to the Basra attacks. The Post warns of a “a growing sense that Iraq is slipping into a period of dangerous instability.”
The local military commander of an alliance of pro-Iran Shiite militias in Basra has already vowed “a response” to the attacks on Iranian interests. I don’t think he has a prayer vigil in mind.
Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, for his part, has acknowledged the challenges facing Basra, but has also said the government will use special forces to counter “terrorists.”
The underlying challenges facing Basra are economic. Basra is experiencing a crippling electricity shortage this summer, as temperatures in the city regularly reach above 120 degrees. In addition, a water pollution crisis has caused thousands of residents of Basra province to become seriously ill in the last few weeks. Hospitals reportedly were so overwhelmed that some patients were left lying on the floor untreated.
As in Basra, there’s a significant economic component to the large-scale mass protests in Iran. However, the grievances in both countries aren’t merely economic. A great many Iraqis aren’t enthusiastic about the prospect of being a satellite of Iran and a great many Iranians aren’t enthusiastic about the reality of living in the Iranian mullahs’ world.