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Iraqi security forces vehicles are stationed in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and Pizza Hut fast food restaurants in the Al-Jadriya neighbourhood in Baghdad on May 30, 2024.

Iraqi security forces vehicles are stationed in front of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and Pizza Hut fast food restaurants in the Al-Jadriya neighbourhood in Baghdad on 30 May 2024. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq denounced attacks that targeted western-linked brands in Baghdad recently, as frustration soars across the Middle East over Israel's war in Gaza. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)

Iraq Deploys Counterterrorism Force to Protect U.S. Franchises from Vandals

The Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service—an elite U.S.-trained force—is now patrolling areas of Baghdad to protect U.S. restaurant franchises from vandals and assailants angry about the Gaza war.

Starting in late May, assailants have targeted American-style food chains in Baghdad, including KFC and Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken, as part of an economic boycott of brands that they claim help fund the Israeli military’s actions in Gaza, The Washington Post reported. On 26 May, someone threw a makeshift bomb at a KFC branch, causing minor damage, according to Iraqi News. In another incident, a group of 30 men attacked a branch of KFC and a Chili House restaurant, smashing glass and furniture but causing no injuries.

“Security camera footage shows the masked men bursting into the fast food restaurant as horrified workers and customers escape through a back exit,” Al Jazeera reported. “The men then proceed to smash windows and LED screens and break chairs, tables, kitchen appliances—and whatever else they could find. Minutes later, security forces arrive at the scene and fire warning shots as perpetrators run back into their cars and speed away.”

Other U.S.-linked businesses have been targeted as well, either for violent displays or peaceful protests. A sound bomb was thrown outside a dealership for U.S. construction equipment company Caterpillar, leaving a pothole in the street. Protesters carrying Palestinian and Iraqi flags marched outside the PepsiCo offices in Baghdad, and another protest took place outside Procter & Gamble offices.

“Targeting American brands as a way to protest U.S. foreign policy is common in the Middle East and globally,” according to the Post. “When the war between Israel and Hamas broke out in the fall, and a McDonald’s franchise in Israel said it would provide free meals to soldiers, several branches of the chain were vandalized in Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey.”

Iran-backed militias in Iraq confirmed to the Associated Press (AP) that attackers were their supporters and that they aimed to promote a boycott of U.S. brands.

“Days after the war broke out, a coalition of Iran-backed militias dubbed the Islamic Resistance in Iraq launched dozens of attacks on bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and eastern Syria,” according to the AP. “Those attacks stopped in February—but only after a series of retaliatory U.S. strikes following a drone hit on a base in Jordan that killed three American soldiers.

“The attacks on U.S.-linked businesses and brands in Iraq in late May and earlier this week represent a change in tactics intended to maximize anti-U.S. sentiment over Washington’s support for Israel,” the AP continued.

Spokespeople for the militias urged supporters to get rid of Israel’s “espionage affiliates covered in civilian garb,” trying to link U.S. organizations to Israeli military efforts.

In a statement on X (formerly Twitter), U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski said, “We condemn recent violent attacks against U.S. and international businesses and urge the Government of Iraq to conduct a thorough investigation, bring to justice those who are responsible, and prevent future attacks. These attacks endanger Iraqi lives and property, and could weaken Iraq’s ability to attract foreign investment.”

Iraq responded to the unrest by deploying counterterrorism units across Baghdad to guard against more violence, reassure foreign investors, and signal that government forces are in control, the Post reported. So far, 12 alleged assailants have been detained.

The attacks have put many business owners on edge, especially ones that are located next to American-affiliated businesses or resemble U.S. fast food chains. Some rushed to social media to issue statements clarifying that they are local businesses without ties to U.S. companies, the Post added.