Rufat Ahmadzada
Observing the Caucasus, Iran and Middle East

What popular uprisings in Lebanon and Iraq tell us about Iran

Stability and prosperity in the Middle East linked to change in Iran
Anti-government protesters stand on barriers set up  by Iraqi security forces to close the Joumhouriya Bridge leading to the Green Zone government area, in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Anti-government protesters burn an armored vehicle belonging to the Federal Police Rapid Response Forces during a protest in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019 /Hadi Mizban

The ongoing popular protests in Lebanon and Iraq are growing despite the warnings from Tehran. Ayatollah Khamenei condemned the demonstrators, accusing them of being American and Israeli stooges. Although the protestors are demanding better governance, the curbing of elite corruption and improvement of poor social services, it is evident that they are fed up with the Islamic Republic’s interference in their lives through its Shia proxies both in Lebanon and Iraq.

Iraqi protesters are openly showing their anti-Islamic Republic outrage by burning Khomeini and Khamenei’s posters and flags. Since 2003 the Iranian regime has established its uncontested political hegemony over Iraq by applying its hallmark tactic of rule by proxy. Because of the regime’s sectarian policies, Iraq’s disenfranchised Sunnis have opposed Iran’s policies in their country and paid a heavy price. Now it seems Iran is losing its power base in the Shia regions as well. After all these years Iraq’s Sunnis and Shias are united against the corrupt elites of their country and clearly hold the Islamic Republic responsible for Iraq’s misery and troubles. Dozens of peaceful Iraqi protesters have been shot by snipers, and Tehran’s proxy groups, namely Hashd al Shaabi (the Popular Mobilisation Forces), are suspected. Protests in Shia religious cities Najaf and Karbala are unique and prove the point that Iran could lose Iraq at any time and the regime’s survival might even be threatened on the streets of Iran.

The Iranian political establishment has always viewed proxies in the region as a way to ensure the regime’s stability and survival back home. And now with the uprisings in Iraq and Lebanon one has to wonder whether Mr Khamenei is about to lose his control in the region, which can threaten his regime on the Iranian streets. At the end of the day, in the Middle East popular uprisings are capable of creating a domino effect and the Arab Spring is an excellent lesson. In Lebanon, people did not bow to threats from Hezbollah and took to the streets to protest against the political status quo. In a deeply divided sectarian country the Lebanese are united for the first time to oppose the government, and Hezbollah is frightened by the events. This is the same organisation that intervened in the Syrian civil war on Assad’s side simply to prevent the possibility of being isolated from Iran. This time Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, threatened the Lebanese citizens that there might be civil war in Lebanon if the protestors do not back off. It seems threats and violence are not working any more and the Iranian regime is concerned about the situation. If Iraq and Lebanon get out of the regime’s control, the question to ask about a popular upheaval in Iran is not if but when.

Losing Iraq particularly would have serious consequences for the leaders of Iran, as they are also looking at it as a possible political sanctuary in case of regime change. Unless there is a stable sovereign political system in Iraq, the Velayeti-Fagih establishment can use it as a launchpad to disrupt and derail democratisation in post-Islamic Republic Iran, just as the system’s founder Khomeini used to do from Iraq back in the 1970s.


The root cause of sectarian clashes, confrontations, destruction and poverty in the Middle East is the expansion and export of the Islamic Republic’s state ideology. Iran’s ruling elites are vulnerable and they view Tehran-controlled proxies as a protective shield to sustain the regime’s survival. Growing dissatisfaction with the ruling elite has already sparked numerous demonstrations against the system’s failed policies, and in that regard Iraqi and Lebanese demonstrators share the same goal as the Iranian people in terms of regaining control of their destiny. With its enormous potential Iran can play a positive role in the region once it becomes a truly secular and democratic state respecting universal values. Certainly, that would have a radical impact on solving the pressing issues in the region created by the current Iranian government.

Therefore, international support for the plight of Iranians is vital, and human rights violations in Iran should be highlighted by NGO’s. Unfortunately, some prestigious NGO’s fall short in that regard by focusing primarily on other regional states. Of course, Tehran’s foreign lobbyists have also played a crucial role in establishing the image of “normal’ power in the Middle East among Western policy makers, academicians and the public. Iran’s democratisation and becoming a normal nation state and the current chaos in the region are mutually connected. Without discussing the primary cause of the regional troubles the international community is going to let down the Lebanese and Iraqi protestors, and eventually a brutal massacre might occur by the Iranian-led proxies.

About the Author
A native of Azerbaijan, I write extensively on political developments in the Caucasus, Iran and the Middle East. City, University of London graduate.
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