Iraqi protesters burn down Iranian consulate in Najaf, Five shot dead in Iraq as demonstrators clash with police

Anti-government protesters burned down the Iranian consulate building in southern Iraq on Wednesday, while six protesters were killed by security forces who fired live rounds amid ongoing violence, Iraqi officials said on Wednesday.

Protesters destroyed the Iranian consulate in the holy city of Najaf, the seat of the country’s Shiite religious authority, in the evening.

At least 33 people were wounded when police fired live ammunition to repel them from entering the building, a police official said.

Authorities declared curfew in Najaf after the incident. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Iranian staff were not harmed and escaped the building from the back door.

The demonstrators lowered the Iranian flag from the consulate building and raised the Iraqi flag.

The police have imposed a curfew until further notice.

Iraqi security initially responded by shooting at the demonstrators and then withdrew along with the diplomatic corps.

Anti-government protesters throw Molotov cocktails and stones while security forces close Rasheed Street in Baghdad. (Photo: AP)

Protesters took to the streets on October 1 to decry rampant government corruption, poor services and rising Iranian influence in Iraqi state affairs. At least 350 people have died since the unrest started.

In a related development, Protesters blocked roads with burning tires in southern Iraq and clashed with police in Baghdad on Wednesday, aiming to use economic disruption as leverage to push the government from power and root out state corruption.

Security forces shot dead two people in Karbala overnight and two in Baghdad on Wednesday, while a fifth person died from gunfire by security forces during protests in the southern oil capital of Basra.

Demonstrators prevented government employees getting to work in Basra by installing concrete barriers painted as mock-up coffins of relatives killed in weeks of unrest, a Reuters witness said.

Young, mostly Shia protesters say politicians are corrupt and blame them for Iraq’s failure to recover from decades of conflict and sanctions despite two years of relative calm following the defeat of ISIS.

Government reform has amounted to little more than a handful of state jobs for graduates, stipends for the poor and pledges of election reform which lawmakers have barely begun to discuss.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi expressed concern over both the violence and the financial toll of unrest late on Tuesday, but mostly blamed unidentified saboteurs for the damage.

“There have been martyrs among protesters and security forces, many wounded and arrested … we’re trying to identify mistakes” made by security forces in trying to put down the protests, he told a televised cabinet meeting.

“The blocking of ports has cost billions of dollars,” he said.

Protesters have blocked traffic into Iraq’s main commodities port near Basra this month and tried to surround the Central Bank in Baghdad, apparently bent on causing economic disruption where calls for removal of the government have failed.

– With The Associated Press.

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