Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday blamed the United States and Western spy services for inciting unrests in the region, Press TV reported.
"The United States and the Western intelligence services, financed by certain reactionary countries of the region, are behind such incidents," he said.
Khamenei called for vigilance of the nations in the region, saying the "plots by the enemies are aimed to rob regional countries of security."
Khamenei made the remarks in the graduation ceremony of Army cadets at Khatam al-Anbia Air Defense Academy in the capital Tehran on Wednesday.
Over the past weeks, demonstrations have been carried out in Iraq and Lebanon, calling for reform, improvement of public services and job opportunities.
Lebanese soldiers are reopening major roads that had been closed by protesters for nearly two weeks, paralyzing the country.
There was no significant resistance from protesters as army units with bulldozers took down barriers and tents set up in the middle of highways and major intersections on Wednesday.
The move comes a day after Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his government's resignation after nearly two weeks of nationwide protests, in the first major win for the protest movement.
The leaderless protesters had mixed opinions on whether they should leave the streets or continue with their campaign, which has left banks, schools and other businesses shuttered since Oct. 18.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Tuesday on Lebanese leaders to "urgently" form a new government following Hariri's resignation.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is rejecting an Israeli professor's claim that the country's former leader Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated as part of a conspiracy and that his convicted killer is innocent.
Bar-Ilan University Professor Mordechai Kedar claimed on Tuesday at a rally in support of Netanyahu that Yigal Amir did not kill Rabin but that another gunman did, as part of a political conspiracy.
Amir was convicted in 1996 and is serving a life sentence for the November 1995 killing of Rabin, who spearheaded the peace process with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu, who was the opposition leader at the time, had been accused of inciting anti-Rabin sentiment ahead of the assassination.
Media quoted Netanyahu as condemning Kedar's "nonsense" about Amir on Wednesday. Bar-Ilan University said Kedar's views don't reflect the school's.
The day after anti-government protests erupted in Iraq, Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani flew into Baghdad late at night and took a helicopter to the heavily fortified Green Zone, where he surprised a group of top security officials by chairing a meeting in place of the prime minister.
The arrival of Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force and the architect of its regional security apparatus, signaled Tehran's concern over the protests, which had erupted across the capital and in Iraq's Shiite heartland, and included calls for Iran to stop meddling in the country.
The protests in Iraq and Lebanon are fueled by local grievances and mainly directed at political elites, but they also pose a challenge to Iran, which closely backs both governments as well as powerful armed groups in each country. An increasingly violent crackdown in Iraq and an attack by Hezbollah supporters on the main protest camp in Beirut have raised fears of a backlash by Iran and its allies.
"We in Iran know how to deal with protests," Soleimani told the Iraqi officials, according to two senior officials familiar with the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the secret gathering. "This happened in Iran and we got it under control."
But nearly a month later, the protests in Iraq have resumed and demonstrations continue in Lebanon, both directed at governments and factions allied with Tehran. The protests threaten Iran's regional influence at a time when it is struggling under crippling U.S. sanctions.
The day after Soleimani's visit, the clashes between the protesters and security forces in Iraq became far more violent, with the death toll soaring past 100 as unidentified snipers shot demonstrators in the head and chest. Nearly 150 protesters were killed in less than a week.
During renewed protests this week, men in black plainclothes and masks stood in front of Iraqi soldiers, facing off with protesters and firing tear gas. Residents said they did not know who they were, with some speculating they were Iranians.
"Iran is afraid of these demonstrations because it has made the most gains in the government and parliament through parties close to it" since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, said Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi security analyst. "Iran does not want to lose these gains. So it has tried to work through its parties to contain the protests in a very Iranian way."
It hasn't worked.
The protests in Iraq resumed Friday after a brief hiatus, with protesters massing in Baghdad's Tahrir Square and clashing with security forces as they tried to breach barricades on a bridge leading to the Green Zone, the seat of the government and home to several embassies. In southern Iraq, protesters have attacked and torched the offices of political parties and government-backed militias allied with Iran.
In a country that is OPEC's second-largest oil producer, impoverished residents complain that powerful Shiite militias tied to Iran have built economic empires, taking control of state reconstruction projects and branching into illicit business activities.
"All the parties and factions are corrupt, and this is connected to Iran, because it's using them to try and export its system of clerical rule to Iraq," said Ali al-Araqi, a 35-year-old protester from the southern town of Nasiriyah, which has seen especially violent clashes between protesters and security forces.
"The people are against this, and that is why you are seeing an uprising against Iran," he said.
Overnight Tuesday, masked men who appeared to be linked to Iraq's security forces opened fire on protesters in Karbala, a holy city associated with the martyrdom of one of the most revered figures in Shiite Islam. At least 18 protesters were killed and hundreds were wounded in bloodshed that could mark an ominous turning point in the demonstrations. In Baghdad, protesters burned an Iranian flag. Days earlier, protesters had gathered outside the Iranian Consulate in Karbala, chanting "Iran, out, out!"
In Lebanon, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets, demanding the resignation of a government dominated by pro-Iran factions. As in Iraq, the protests are focused on local grievances .
"The protests in both Iraq and Lebanon are primarily about local politics and a corrupt political class that has failed to deliver," said Ayham Kamel, the Middle East and North Africa practice head at Eurasia Group.
The protests "showcase the failure of the proxy model where Iran is able to expand influence but its allies are unable to effectively govern," Kamel said.
Lebanese protesters have only rarely called out Iran and its main local ally, the militant Hezbollah group, but they have focused much of their rage on Lebanon's president and foreign minister, who come from a Christian party closely allied with Hezbollah.
A common chant, "All means all," implies that none of Lebanon's factions, including Hezbollah and its allies, are beyond reproach.
Last week, fistfights broke out at a main rally when protesters chanted against Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who announced at around the same time that he was withdrawing his supporters from the protests. He said unspecified foreign powers were exploiting the protests to undermine his group, warning that such actions could plunge the country back into civil war.
On Tuesday, Hezbollah supporters rampaged through the main protest camp in central Beirut. Shortly thereafter, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Western-backed leader who had reluctantly partnered with the pro-Iran factions in a national unity government, resigned. The protesters returned to the square by sundown, cheering their first victory since the demonstrations began Oct. 17.
Hezbollah is the most powerful armed force in Lebanon and was alone in refusing to disarm after the 1975-1990 civil war. It justifies its arsenal by saying it's needed to defend the country from Israel, which occupied southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000.
Hezbollah sent thousands of fighters to neighboring Syria to help defeat the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad, another key Iranian ally. Iraq's powerful Iran-backed militias, initially mobilized to battle the Islamic State group, have also fought alongside Assad's troops. And Iran violently suppressed its own pro-democracy protests, known as the Green Movement, after the disputed 2009 presidential election.
Iran has been largely silent on the protests, while expressing support for both governments, as well as Hezbollah. Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi has offered Tehran's "deep regret" about the scores of protesters killed in Iraq.
"We are sure that the Iraqi government, nation and clerics can overcome these problems," he said.
New York, Oct 28 (AP/UNB) — The killing of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave President Donald Trump an undeniable national security triumph and also a much-needed political victory at the most precarious moment of his presidency.
Imperiled by an impeachment inquiry and facing fierce foreign policy criticism from within his own party, Trump reveled in the win Sunday, at first announcing the raid like so many of his predecessors, with solemnity for the mission in Syria and praise for the brave Americans and allies who carried it out.
As the minutes passed, he reverted to the president who has tried to redefine the office and how Americans view it, using graphic language and awkward ad-libs while dispensing criticism of his political foes, at home and abroad, and turning the triumph into a moment, more than anything, about Donald J. Trump himself.
Despite the Trumpian flourishes, the president's White House reveal of al-Baghdadi's death gave him a destined-for-history image to place alongside Barack Obama's iconic announcement of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. It also offered him a reprieve from the escalating impeachment inquiry and a ready-made line for this 2020 reelection campaign.
"The al-Baghdadi raid is a gold star for the Trump presidency. It was a lifeline to him because his poll numbers are tumbling and people think he's made significant foreign policy mistakes in the Middle East," said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. "Just when he is massively hemorrhaging, he is able to claim a foreign policy win. Impeachment will swirl around him but this is concrete."
The timing for Trump was fortuitous. His poll numbers have slipped since the initiation of the Democrats' impeachment inquiry into the request Trump made of Ukraine to investigate a political foe, leading to a parade of officials providing damaging testimony on Capitol Hill. Moreover, the raid comes against the backdrop of some of the most pointed criticism from his own party over his decision to pull most U.S. troops out of Syria.
"This allows him to say we can still succeed in Syria in light of all that has happened there in recent weeks because of his policy change," said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Haass cautioned that because of the opaque nature of the Islamic State, al-Baghdadi's death was "not a transformational event" that would forever cripple the militant network. But he underscored that for the nation and for Trump, "it was a good day because it sends the message that no enemy of the United States is safe."
In a national Sunday morning address that he had teased on Saturday night, Trump described the daring nighttime airborne raid by American special operations forces in Syria's northwestern Idlib province and said they flew over heavily militarized territory controlled by multiple nations and forces. He adopted the role of narrator, at one point marveling at the clarity of the video taken during the raid.
Presidents are often measured by how they handle such important national moments, the words they use becoming part of the permanent tableau of their time in office. When Trump hewed to his prepared remarks, he was in league with those who came before him. But when he diverted, when a moment of national resolve and triumph turned into just another riffing question-and-answer session, he risked diminishing what should have been a triumph.
As he so often does, Trump offered a commentary on the images that he just watched, but this time he was not reacting to cable news talking heads, but rather video he viewed in the Situation Room as the raid was carried out, gloatingly narrating gruesome details about the militant leader's death.
"He ignited his vest, killing himself and the three children. His body was mutilated by the blast," Trump said. "The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him."
And before long, the story was less about the raid and more about him. The targets of his grievances were familiar: Democrats, with whom he did not share information about the mission, as well European nations, many of which have defied his wishes and disagreed with his policies. He also, once more, compared himself to his immediate predecessor and boasted what he had done was grander.
"Osama bin Laden was very big, but Osama bin Laden became big with the World Trade Center," said Trump, before arguing that al-Baghdadi was a more lethal and important target. "This is a man who built a whole, as he would like to call it, a country, a caliphate, and was trying to do it again."
The contrast with Obama's 2011 announcement about bin Laden's death was striking. National celebrations followed the death of a man who had killed nearly 3,000 on American soil. Al-Baghdadi, though extraordinarily dangerous, had not orchestrated an attack like the one bin Laden planned for Sept. 11, 2001, and was not nearly as well known.
And while Obama spoke somberly for nine minutes and took no questions, Trump held forth for 48 minutes, answering question after question. He called the slain militant a "dog" and "a total loser," said he couldn't trust Democrats not to leak details of the mission that would endanger American lives and, in one eyebrow-raising moment, complained about not getting enough credit for the success of his many books, including one that he falsely claimed was prescient about the dangers of bin Laden.
Widening the victory lap, administration officials fanned out on the Sunday talk shows and the White House released a photo of Trump watching the raid, again drawing contrasts, perhaps some unintentional, with the bin Laden raid eight years earlier.
In the famous candid photo from the 2011 raid, Obama is sitting off to the side, gazing intently and anxiously at a screen while surrounded by a room full of advisers, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In a seemingly posed photo tweeted out Sunday by White House social media director Dan Scavino, Trump sits dead center, staring directly into the camera lens.
"I saw a president that is just desperate for some accolades, just hungry for some sort of success. Instead of doing a clipped serious report on what occurred, he started heading into graphic 'TrumpLand' language to offer as much gritty detail as he could to get people to lean forward and listen," said Brinkley. "The language was not what we are used to hearing from a president. But it was quintessential Trump."