Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei Turns Fire on 'Evil' U.S. as Drought Protests Erupt

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei used his address marking the start of the holy Hajj season to condemn U.S. policy in the Middle East, even as major protests erupt in the south of the country following severe drought and power outages.

Khamenei posted a series of tweets on his English-language account early on Monday, dismissing the U.S. as aggressive and "arrogant" and urging Muslim nations in the region to resist Washington, D.C. and its allies in Israel.

The 82-year-old said Muslim nations had been subjected to "western govts' greed, interference and vice" over the past 150 years, blaming the "passivity & incompetence" of Muslim leaders.

"We, the followers of Islam—who enjoy large populations, vast lands, and countless natural resources—must build the future with our assets & resources, and stand up and RESIST the aggression, interference and evil of western powers," Khamenei added.

"What Iran is saying, that has enraged Arrogant Powers, is inviting to resistance against US interference & evil."

Khamenei did not mention the protests erupting in his own nation, in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, where demonstrators took to the streets this weekend amid Iran's worst drought for 50 years.

The drought has led to water shortages affecting homes and agriculture. It has also severely undermined the country's hydroelectric network, leading to blackouts.

Security forces attempted to disperse protesters with live fire, killing at least two young men on Friday, according to Al Jazeera. Regime media and officials have blamed rioters for both deaths.

Videos showed some groups of protesters chanting "death to the dictator" and "death to Khamenei"—two slogans heard in recent protests against the regime.

Protesters chanted the same slogans during recent demonstrations against increasingly frequent blackouts, during protests after the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in January, and during mass protests against a controversial new fuel tax in late 2019.

Iran's economy remains in dire straits, constricted by U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic. President Joe Biden intends to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal that eased American and international sanctions on Tehran, but talks are currently stalled ahead of president-elect Ebrahim Raisi taking office in August.

Until then, former President Donald Trump's tough sanctions remain in place. His administration's "maximum pressure" policy choked Iran's vital oil exports and helped throttle imports of medicine, fuel, and other staple goods.

The Iranian government and various human rights groups have condemned the sanctions as inhumane and disproportionate, the brunt borne by normal Iranians rather than regime figures.

Meanwhile, Iran has continued massive spending on its foreign policy agenda. Tehran arms, trains, and funds militia organizations in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan, seeking to undermine the influence of the U.S. and its allies in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Gulf.

The regime still frames itself as the center of Middle Eastern anti-imperialism, but has spent 42 years exporting its authoritarian Islamic Revolution across the region and using proxy forces to ignite civil conflicts.

Khamanei's Twitter thread took aim at U.S. regional interventionism. "The tragedies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon etc., where US & its cohorts' interference & evil hands are completely visible, are stimulating the youth's determination," Khamanei said.

"In Iraq, the usurping US and its puppet ISIS are pushed back. US propaganda efforts to distort the will and actions of the brave youth in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, etc. & ascribe them to Iran or any other reference point, is an insult to those valiant, vigilant youth & stems from US's lack of proper understanding of regional nations.

"US's ignorance caused its humiliation in Afghanistan. After that raucous invasion 20 years ago, it became stuck in a quagmire & had to withdraw its forces.

"Of course, the vigilant Afghan nation should remain watchful & stand against US intelligence tools & soft war."

Ali Khamenei votes in Iran's election
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts his ballot in Iran's presidential election, on June 18, 2021, in Tehran. Majid Saeedi/Getty Images