BAGHDAD (Christian Examiner) – Police in the predominantly Shiite city of Basra in southern Iraq on July 1 celebrated Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day by marching over U.S. and Israeli flags and burning others.
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which translates Arab media from the region and around the world, cited several reports that said the police were joined by members of the Shiite militia from the town. The fighters, more loyal to Iran than Iraq, chanted the slogan "Death to America" during the parade and flag burning, the accounts said.
Muhammad Al-Basri, director of the Center for Iraqi Political Studies, told Al-Arabi Al-Jadid – a London-based newspaper – that the participants in the parade, which commemorates the fall of Jerusalem to the Jews in 1948 and Muslims' desire to recapture the city – also carried images of "non-Iraqi religious leaders."
The paper noted, "Most security forces in Basra were trained by Americans, and this event indicates the failure of the American plan [to influence Iraq] and affirms [the claim] that the Iranians have appropriated this plan."
While the police in Basra were praised by the city's residents, some Iraqis condemned the anti-American protest. A columnist for the Iraqi daily Al-Mada reminded readers that the U.S. had overthrown Saddam Hussein, who killed hundreds of thousands of Shiites. Another writer in a Kurdish newspaper condemned the event.
The events in Basra, less than 20 miles from the border with Iran, were noticed in Saudi Arabia, which sees the growing influence of Iran in both Iraq and Yemen, where Houthi rebels, backed by the Shiite regime in Tehran, are fighting against Sunni Muslims.
The Saudi daily Elaph.com called the Al-Quds protest evidence of Iran's "deep infiltration" of Iraq after the U.S. withdrew combat troops. The online newspaper said the city had also renamed one of its streets in honor of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni, founder of Iran's Islamic Revolution.
Elaph.com also claimed that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki attended an official state function – an iftar (a Muslim's evening meal breaking the fast of Ramadan) at the Iranian embassy. The paper criticized the meeting where no Iraqi flags were present.
Iraq's interior minister reportedly has said that the incident is being investigated and punishments could be handed down because police and soldiers are not allowed to participate in political events and protests.