Protesters torched the Iranian consulate in the holy city of Najaf late on Wednesday. One protester was killed and at least 35 people were wounded when police fired live ammunition to prevent them from entering the building, a police official said.
The demonstrators removed the Iranian flag from the building and replaced it with an Iraqi one. Iranian staff were not harmed and escaped the building from the back door and authorities imposed a curfew in Najaf.
The incident marked an escalation in the demonstrations that have raged in Baghdad and across the mostly Shiite southern Iraq since the start of October. The protesters accuse the Shiite-led government of being hopelessly corrupt and complain of poor public services and high unemployment. They are also decrying growing Iranian influence in Iraqi state affairs.
Security forces have fired bullets, teargas and smoke bombs on a near daily basis since the unrest began. At least 350 people have been killed and thousands wounded in what has become the largest grassroots protest movement in Iraq’s modern history.
Two protesters were killed and 35 wounded when security forces fired live rounds to disperse them from Baghdad’s historic Rasheed Street, security and hospital officials said.
The street, which is adjacent to the strategic Ahrar Bridge, has been the focus of violence for a full week, with near daily incidents of deaths as a result of security forces using live ammunition and teargas to keep demonstrators from advancing beyond a concrete barrier.
Protesters are occupying three key bridges in central Baghdad – Jumhuriya, Ahrar and Sinar – in a standoff with security forces. On Wednesday, they also burned tires on Ahrar Bridge to block security forces from accessing the area.
The burning of the Iranian consulate followed tense days in southern Iraq, where protesters have burned tires and cut access to main roads in several provinces.
In Karbala, four protesters were killed by live fire from security forces in the previous 24 hours.
Three of the anti-government protesters were killed when security forces fired live rounds to disperse crowds in the holy city of Karbala late Tuesday, security and medical officials said. One protester died of wounds suffered when a teargas canister struck him in clashes earlier in the day.
Protesters have largely kept away from threatening Iraq’s economy, but in the southern city of Basra daily closures of the two main Gulf commodities ports has caused disruptions to trade activity, a port official said.
Protesters continued to cut major roads to Umm Qasr and Khor Al Zubair ports on Wednesday, reducing trade activity by 50%, according to the port official.
Protesters also blocked roads leading to major oil fields in West Qurna and Rumaila. A senior oil ministry official said crude production was not hit by the closures.
Three simultaneous explosions rocked Baghdad late Tuesday, killing five people and wounding more than a dozen, Iraqi officials said, in the first apparent coordinated attack since anti-government protests erupted. The bombings took place far from Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of weeks of anti-government protests that have posed the biggest security challenge to Iraq since the defeat of the Islamic State group.