Attacks on companies linked to US brands are roiling Baghdad as anger grows over the war in Gaza

BAGHDAD — A dozen masked men jump out of two SUVs and a white pickup and storm a KFC in Baghdad, smashing everything before fleeing the scene. A few days earlier, similar violence took place at Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken and Chili House – all American brands popular in the Iraqi capital.

Although no one was seriously injured, the recent attacks – apparently orchestrated by supporters of Iran-backed, anti-American militias in Iraq – reflect growing anger against the United States, Israel's main ally, over the war in Gaza.

Iraqi governments have been walking a delicate line between Washington and Tehran for years, but the eight-month war in Gaza has critically raised the stakes.

The conflict broke out after the militant Hamas group stormed into southern Israel on October 7in which around 1,200 people – mainly civilians – were killed and 250 people were taken hostage. Israel's subsequent offensives in Gaza have killed more than 36,000 Palestinians in the area. according to the Ministry of Health over there.

Days after the war broke out, a coalition of Iranian-backed militias called the Islamic Resistance launched dozens of them in Iraq attacks on bases housing US troops in Iraq and eastern Syria.

Those attacks stopped in February – but only after a series of US retaliatory strikes following a drone strike on a base in Jordan that killed three American soldiers.

The attacks on US-linked companies and brands in Iraq in late May and earlier this week represent a change in tactics designed to maximize anti-American sentiment over Washington's support for Israel.

The KFC attack unfolded like a robbery, except the attackers weren't after the money.

Security camera footage shows the masked men storming into the fast-food restaurant as shocked workers and customers escape through a back exit. The men then proceed to destroy windows and LED screens, breaking chairs, tables, kitchen appliances – and whatever else they can find.

Minutes later, security forces arrive on the scene and fire warning shots as the perpetrators rush back into their car and run away.

In other incidents, a sound bomb was hurled outside the Caterpillar store, sending the neighborhood into an uproar and leaving a small hole in the street.

Some expressions of anti-American sentiment were less volatile.

Protesters carrying Palestinian and Iraqi flags marched to the PepsiCo offices in Baghdad last week, chanting “No to cops” and “No to Israel.” Another protest took place outside Procter's offices. & Gamble.

Iraqi forces, armed with assault rifles and supported by armored vehicles with mounted machine guns, now guard the targeted buildings and franchises.

Two officials from Iran-backed militias in Iraq confirmed to The Associated Press that the attackers were their supporters and that their aim is to promote a boycott of American brands and discourage their presence in the country.

It is also an effort to boost the militias' image, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with their groups' rules.

Abu Ali al-Askari, spokesman for the powerful Iran-backed paramilitary group Kataib Hezbollah, urged supporters on Monday to get rid of Israel's “spy affiliates dressed in plain clothes” – a reference to companies and organizations seen as linked with the US and Israel. .

Essa Ahmad, who organized more than 30 protests in support of Gaza, said at a recent rally in Baghdad that he and other youth activists want Iraqis to boycott products “that support Israel,” although he says they do not condone violence.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr – a rival to Iran-backed factions who, although he has withdrawn from politics, remains widely popular among many Iraqi Shiites – has called on Iraq to expel the US ambassador.

Political analyst Ihsan al-Shammari thinks the attacks on American and Western brands play on the decades-old rivalry between Tehran and Washington.

“These attacks have political goals,” he said. They send the message “that any investment or presence of Western companies in Iraq cannot survive.”

Renad Mansour, a senior research fellow at Chatham House in London, says Iraq has been a “playground” for both Washington and Tehran, leaving Baghdad's governments with little sovereignty and freedom of choice.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, who came to power with the backing of a pro-Iranian coalition, has sought to appease his anti-American allies without stoking tensions with Washington or endangering foreign investment in Iraq .

Iraq and the U.S. have begun formal talks in recent months to withdraw about 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq under an agreement with Baghdad, mainly to counter the militant Islamic State group.

“The Prime Minister of Iraq … has put forward the idea that Iraq is no longer at war and is focusing on repairing the relationship with the US, looking at the relationship with Iran and pushing for Iraq's sovereignty,” Mansour told to the AP. “Of course the war on Gaza has had an influence on this.”

The Interior Ministry said it had arrested some suspects in the riots and was searching for others.

But the two militia figures claimed the government is afraid to go after the rioters even if it knows who they are, for fear of an escalation. They warned of more attacks on American interests if the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq stalls further.

US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski condemned the attacks on US and international franchises in a post on social media platform X, saying they could impact foreign investment in the Iraqi economy.

U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the attacks “harm what are essentially franchises of American companies, Iraqi employees, Iraqi patrons and sometimes Iraqi capital used there.”

“So ultimately these are attacks against the Iraqi people,” Miller said. “We believe the Iraqi government should take appropriate measures to respond to these attacks and hold people accountable.”

Iraqi security spokesman Maj. Gen. Tahseen al-Khafaji told the AP that the rioters will be pursued — as will anyone who threatens the country's security and economic well-being.

“We are making significant efforts to safeguard the investments and progress made by the current government,” al-Khafaji said. “It is essential to protect this performance and create a safe environment for investors.”

Still, al-Askari warned security officials not to stand in the way of efforts to “eliminate” U.S. interests in Iraq.

___

Chehayeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Related Posts

  • Business
  • June 15, 2024
  • 4 views
  • 7 minutes Read
We lower our price target for Salesforce after disappointing guidance

Salesforce shares fell more than 16% on Wednesday after reporting mixed earnings and revised lower expectations. The cloud software company is a high-quality stock in a rough environment – ​​at…

  • Business
  • June 15, 2024
  • 3 views
  • 2 minutes Read
Former SpaceX employees are suing after they were fired after complaining of sexual harassment

Vote on Elon Musk's $56 billion pay package Tesla will vote on Elon Musk's $56 billion pay package after massive layoffs 02:38 Eight former employees have sued SpaceX and its…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You Missed

Scores, results, highlights, standings of Euro 2024: Spain demolish Croatia; Italy vs. Albania close day 2

  • June 15, 2024
Scores, results, highlights, standings of Euro 2024: Spain demolish Croatia;  Italy vs.  Albania close day 2

How the group behind the Supreme Court abortion drug case is expanding its fight worldwide

  • June 15, 2024
How the group behind the Supreme Court abortion drug case is expanding its fight worldwide

The best portable Bluetooth speakers of 2024, tested and reviewed

  • June 15, 2024
The best portable Bluetooth speakers of 2024, tested and reviewed

The lines for CNN's June 27 presidential debate

  • June 15, 2024
The lines for CNN's June 27 presidential debate

Chocolate that utilizes the full potential of the cocoa fruit

  • June 15, 2024
Chocolate that utilizes the full potential of the cocoa fruit

We lower our price target for Salesforce after disappointing guidance

  • June 15, 2024
We lower our price target for Salesforce after disappointing guidance

Apple is joining the race to find an AI icon that makes sense

  • June 15, 2024
Apple is joining the race to find an AI icon that makes sense

Hidden costs of homeownership average $18,000 per year

  • June 15, 2024
Hidden costs of homeownership average $18,000 per year

I canceled a group trip. Do I still have to pay for the hotel?

  • June 15, 2024
I canceled a group trip.  Do I still have to pay for the hotel?

Gene could provide large wheat yields for a growing population

  • June 15, 2024
Gene could provide large wheat yields for a growing population

Former SpaceX employees are suing after they were fired after complaining of sexual harassment

  • June 15, 2024
Former SpaceX employees are suing after they were fired after complaining of sexual harassment