Iraq militias goal KFC, different U.S. companies to protest Gaza battle | EUROtoday

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BAGHDAD — The elite Iraqi counterterrorism pressure that helped vanquish the Islamic State is again patrolling the streets of Baghdad — however this time they’ve a brand new mission: defending U.S. restaurant franchises from vandals offended over the Gaza battle.

In latest weeks, assailants have focused a number of U.S. and American-style meals chains as a part of an “economic boycott” of manufacturers they are saying assist fund the Israeli army’s actions in Gaza. The assaults, together with assaults by masked males on branches of KFC and Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken, started in late May after Iran-backed Shiite militias referred to as on their followers to protest the companies.

The militias, their assertion stated, “reject the use of Iraqi territory for investment projects” whose earnings they declare are funneled to Israel and its armed forces. The United States is Israel’s closest ally and chief provider of weapons and support, however that help comes largely from the federal government.

Iraq has responded to the unrest by deploying U.S.-trained counterterrorism items throughout Baghdad to protect in opposition to extra violence. An effort, analysts say, each to reassure overseas buyers and sign to highly effective, pro-Iran teams that authorities forces are in management.

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“It feels weird to be deployed to protect a restaurant,” stated Ali, 23, a member of the Counter-Terrorism Service now stationed within the bustling Karrada neighborhood of central Baghdad, the place a number of worldwide franchises are situated.

“We are special forces, not bodyguards,” he stated, talking on the situation he be recognized solely by his first identify, as he was not approved to speak to the media.

Targeting American manufacturers as a approach to protest U.S. overseas coverage is widespread within the Middle East and globally. When the battle between Israel and Hamas broke out final fall, and a McDonald’s franchise in Israel stated it could present free meals to troopers, a number of branches of the chain had been vandalized in Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey.

Suspects in Iraq have additionally thrown sound bombs at a language institute and an workplace of Caterpillar Inc., the U.S. development gear producer that provides the Israeli army with armored bulldozers. Small protests had been held outdoors the Baghdad workplaces of PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble, the Associated Press reported.

“We are a group of people from this nation that protested against American interests,” stated one participant, a member of the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah who spoke on the situation of anonymity as a result of he helped perform assaults. “We will continue the boycott until all American interests are closed.”

Shiite militias loyal to Iran maintain important political and army energy in Iraq, and have lengthy opposed the U.S. army presence right here and within the area. The United States has about 2,500 U.S. troops and personnel in Iraq to advise and help native safety forces.

Earlier this yr, militias working beneath the umbrella of the Islamic State in Iraq claimed duty for a drone assault that killed three U.S. service members in neighboring Jordan. After the United States retaliated, killing a senior Kataib Hezbollah commander in central Baghdad in February, the militias pulled again from concentrating on U.S. services.

But few anticipated them to set their sights on burger and fried hen joints well-liked with Iraqis within the capital.

It was a standard weekday evening in Baghdad final month when the chaos first erupted at a brand new KFC department on Palestine Street. Dozens of individuals, sporting masks and armed with sticks, descended on the institution, breaking home windows, throwing chairs and destroying kitchen gear whereas patrons hid or fled.

Salam Abdul Karim, a 43-year-old engineer, was eating together with his household on the time. He stated his 8-year-old daughter was dealing with the door when the assailants entered.

“Once she saw them, she was scared, and said to look behind me,” he stated. “For a few seconds, I didn’t know what to do. Then I immediately told my wife we should leave, as they started to smash the restaurant’s equipment.”

Security forces close by fired warning photographs within the air to disperse the gang. No staff or clients had been bodily harmed. But comparable assaults additionally came about at branches of Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken and the Jordanian-owned Chili House, an American-style burger chain.

The Baghdad-based homeowners of all three institutions declined to remark for safety causes.

“What happened in Baghdad … was an obvious move to send a message that they still have power,” Hamid al-Sayid, an impartial politician, stated of the militias, including that the message is geared toward leaders in each Baghdad and Tehran.

The Interior Ministry stated it apprehended suspects believed to be concerned within the assaults. And the Security Media Cell, an official physique disseminating safety data, referred to as the assaults a “desperate attempt to destabilize the country and harm its reputation.”

But the federal government response has largely been to focus on “only the low rank” militia members, “without targeting the senior network,” Iraqi tutorial Akeel Abbas stated.

“The biggest loser in this equation is the prime minister, because what is happening is the opposite of the message he is trying to deliver in attracting investment,” he stated.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani has sought to diversify the economic system, which depends closely on oil income, and appeal to U.S. and overseas capital to Iraq.

In an announcement on May 30, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Alina L. Romanowski, condemned “recent violent attacks against U.S. and international businesses.”

“These attacks endanger Iraqi lives and property, and could weaken Iraq’s ability to attract foreign investment,” she wrote on X.

For retired Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Taie, now a safety analyst, Sudani’s transfer to deploy the counterterrorism service was each an indication of the militias’ energy, and of the federal government’s willingness to “do whatever it takes to impose the law.”

The counterterrorism fighters like Ali are actually in any respect main intersections in Baghdad. But the violence has put many enterprise homeowners on edge.

Zain Mohammed owns a restaurant in Baghdad. “My cafe is right next to Skechers, and I am concerned they will destroy my cafe as well when they attack it,” he stated.

Some eating places with foreign-sounding names have rushed to concern statements clarifying that they’re native companies with no ties to U.S. firms.

“We would like to announce that our restaurant is a pure Iraqi brand,” the Ghost Burger quick meals chain wrote on its Facebook web page. “And has no link with any foreign company.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/06/16/iraq-kfc-israel-gaza/