Large-scale demonstrations have been going on in several different Iraqi cities since July 8, the day that people living in the economic capital, Basra, began taking to the streets to protest against frequent water and power cuts. At least 11 people have died and dozens more have been injured in the protests.
Social media has been full of photos of these demonstrations, but beware: three of the viral images are actually false.
Protesters wearing coats in weather reaching 50 degrees Celsius ?
Many people, including Iraqi activists and political analysts, shared this video, claiming that it showed protesters in Basra.
There are a few things about the video that would make any savvy social media consumer immediately suspicious. First of all, there is something strange about the clothes that the protesters are wearing. They are dressed for cold weather, even though it is currently 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in Basra. Secondly, there are people clad in traditional garments that are not those of the Basra region. Clearly, it was not filmed there this summer.
A Saudi TV channel with 788,000 followers also relayed this false information.
A vicious repression by Shiite militias?
This photo was so widely shared on social media across the Arab world that it became something akin to a symbol of these protests.
Those who shared it claimed that it showed the “violence of Shiite militias”, who were among the security forces called in to crack down on the protests.
However, a quick reverse image search on Google Images reveals that this photo was actually taken in Karbala, a city in central Iraq, in 2014. The militiamen in the photo were taking part in a military exercise meant to show off their strength.
Different people have used this photo to different ends, some claiming that it shows the strength of Shiite militias, while others claim that it demonstrates Iranian influence on Iraqi politics.
Is the Iraqi prime minister a puppet controlled by Tehran?
Another photo that has been widely circulated shows the late Ayatollah Khomeini, a powerful Iranian Shia religious leader and politician who was a prominent figure in the revolution and later became the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic. In this group picture, there is also a young man that some social media users claim is Haider al-Abadi, who is the current Prime Minister of Iraq, and who they claim once studied under Khomeini.
It’s true that many Shiite men who are currently serving as officials in Iraq actually fought with the Iranian army when former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980, sparking a war that would last eight years.
But that isn’t Al-Abadi’s story. The photo, which is from 1982 according to the national archives of the Iranian Revolution, shows Khomeini with an official from the Revolutionary Guards after the victory over the Iraqi army.
Moreover, Al-Abadi was studying in England during the early 1980s.
This kind of rumour isn’t surprising. Iran has a strong influence in Iraq, especially through the powerful Shiite militia known as the Popular Mobilization Forces or Hashd al Shaabi.
And during the latest protests, it is frequent to hear protesters sing slogans hostile to Iran, like in this one, filmed in Basra.
Published first here.