Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Monday expressed support for Iraqi protesters, Jerusalem’s first public backing for the anti-government rallies that broke out across Iraq last month.
Katz’s statement came the day after Iraqi security forces shot dead three protesters and wounded 19 during a nighttime attack on the Iranian Consulate in the Shiite holy city of Karbala in southern Iraq.
In a tweet, Katz said Israel stood behind the protesters, and condemned Tehran’s alleged involvement in quelling the increasingly violent demonstrations.
“We sympathize with the Iraqi people’s protest for freedom & dignity,” he tweeted. “We condemn their repression and murder led by Qassem Suleimani & Iranian Revolutionary Guards.”
“The Iraqi people have a long & glorious history. Many Israelis from Iraq fondly remember years of living together,” Katz concluded.
Iraq has close but complicated ties with its eastern neighbor Iran, with which it fought a deadly war in the 1980s but which now has significant political and economic sway in Iraq.
Iraqis protesting over the past month accuse Iran of being the primary sponsor of the corrupt, inefficient system they want to overthrow.
Tehran, meanwhile, has sought to clamp down on the protests next door, with sources reporting that Soleimani — who heads the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force– has made several visits to “advise” Iraqi authorities on coping with the rallies.
More than 250 people have been killed so far since the protests erupted October 1 as security forces moved in to contain the increasingly violent rallies.
We sympathize with the Iraqi people's protest for freedom & dignity. We condemn their repression and murder led by Qassem Suleimani & Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The Iraqi people have a long & glorious history. Many Israelis from Iraq fondly remember years of living together
— ישראל כ”ץ Israel Katz (@Israel_katz) November 4, 2019
The protests have often turned violent, with security forces opening fire and protesters torching government buildings and headquarters of Iran-backed militias. The increasingly violent crackdown in Iraq has raised fears of a backlash by Iran and its allies.
On Sunday night, dozens of Iraqi protesters attacked the consulate in Karbala, scaling the concrete barriers ringing the building and tried to bring down the Iranian flag and replace it with the Iraqi flag but could not reach it. They then placed an Iraqi flag on the wall surrounding the consulate.
The protesters also lobbed Molotov cocktails into the consulate grounds, setting off fires.
Iraqi security officials said three protesters were shot and killed and 19 were wounded. Seven policemen were also wounded, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
In Baghdad, many roads were closed since the early hours of Monday to prevent employees from reaching their work.
Qais al-Khazali, the leader of one of Iraq’s most powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militias, said in an interview aired on Iraqi TV that the US, Israel, some Arab Gulf nations and local officials are working to “incite strife and chaos” in Iraq.
Al-Khazali, who heads Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous group, singled out the United Arab Emirates. He vowed to retaliate for the death of one of his group’s commanders who was killed recently by protesters in southern Iraq.
“The Americans and the Israelis will pay a price,” he said.
Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have blamed Israel for several drone attacks in the past summer that targeted the group’s posts in Iraq and neighboring Syria.
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