Pompeo: Iran the common enemy in Mideast anti-government protests

US secretary of state says objections to Tehran’s influence is the common factor in Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran unrest

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media in the briefing room at the State Department, on November 26, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/ AFP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media in the briefing room at the State Department, on November 26, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/ AFP)

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Iran was the uniting factor behind protests around the Middle East, saying demonstrators in Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran itself opposed the clerical regime.

While acknowledging diverse local reasons for the unrest that has swept the Middle East as well as other regions, Pompeo pointed the finger at Iran, considered an enemy by US President Donald Trump’s administration.

Iraqi premier Adel Abdel Mahdi resigned “because the people were demanding freedom and the security forces had killed dozens and dozens of people. That’s due in large part to Iranian influence,” Pompeo said.

“The same is true in Lebanon, the protests in Beirut,” he said at the University of Louisville.

“They want Hezbollah and Iran out of their country, out of their system as a violent and a repressive force,” he said.

Iranians wave national flags during a protest in support of the Islamic Republic’s government and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the northwestern city of Ardabil on November 20, 2019, as President Hassan Rouhani says the country’s people had defeated an “enemy conspiracy” behind a wave of violent street protests. (STR/AFP)

He said that protests inside Iran — which Amnesty International says have killed more than 200 people — showed that Iranians were also “fed up.”

“They see a theocracy that is stealing money, the ayatollahs stealing tens and tens of millions of dollars,” he said.

In both Iraq and Lebanon, protesters have primarily called for an end to corruption, greater efforts to create jobs and a restructuring of the political system.

In this file photo taken on October 23, 2019, Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi speaks during a funeral ceremony in Baghdad on October 23, 2019. (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP)

In Iraq, Abdel Mahdi had close ties with fellow Shiite-majority Iran, but also enjoyed support from the United States. Protesters last week torched the Iranian consulate in Najaf.

In Lebanon, the United States has been seeking to isolate Hezbollah, the Shiite, Iran-backed terror group that is also a political party with berths in the previous government.

The Trump administration, with its close ties with Israel and Saudi Arabia, adversaries of Iran has put a priority on curbing Tehran’s regional influence including by imposing sweeping sanctions.

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