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Iraqis Set Iran Consulate in Najaf on Fire as Protests Rage on

Iraqis Set Iran Consulate in Najaf on Fire as Protests Rage on

Wednesday, 27 November, 2019 - 13:30
Iraq has been rocked by its most intense and widespread protests in decades, leaving more than 350 people dead and around 15,000 wounded | AFP

Iraqi protesters stormed and set fire to the Iranian consulate in the southern city of Najaf on Wednesday, police and civil defense sources said.

Staff at the consulate had evacuated before the incident, they said.

The protesters entered the compound late on Wednesday and set fire to the entire consulate building, the police and civil defense source said, according to Reuters.

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.

Elsewhere, 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.

Iraq’s large protests are the most complex challenge to a Shiite-dominated ruling class that has controlled state institutions and patronage networks since a 2003 US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.

Young, mostly Shiite 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.

The unrest has shattered that calm and authorities warn against its exploitation by armed groups, especially should protest-related violence spread to northern Iraq where ISIS militants are waging an insurgency.

The extremist group on Thursday claimed three bomb blasts in Baghdad overnight which killed at least six people, but provided no evidence for the claim.

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.

“First we were demanding reform and an end to corruption,” said Ali Nasser, an unemployed engineering graduate protesting in Basra.

“But after the government started killing peaceful protesters we won’t leave before it’s been toppled together with the corrupt ruling class.”

"The government has lost all its legitimacy. We don't want them," said another protester. "They meet every day and claim to be discussing our demands, but we expect nothing from them."

Slow, meaningless reform

Alia, a 23-year-old medical student, said: “The reforms are just words. We want actions. We’ve had 16 years of words without actions. We have been robbed for 16 years.”

Security forces meanwhile shot dead more demonstrators. In Karbala, south of Baghdad, they used live ammunition against protesters, killing two overnight. Two more were killed in clashes near Baghdad’s Ahrar Bridge on Wednesday.

Near Basra one protester died of wounds from gunfire, police and medics said.

The street violence in Iraq has left more than 350 people dead and some 15,000 wounded over the past two months.

Another 100 protesters suffered injuries in two days of rallies in Hillah, just south of Baghdad, when security forces used tear gas against them.

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.”

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.

The government is moving slowly in enacting any kind of change. Promises of electoral reform and an early general election have yet to be ratified by parliament, and the political class has closed ranks in the face of a significant challenge to its grip on power.

Corruption is rampant in Iraq, ranked the world's 12th most graft-ridden country by Transparency International. A government probe found that $450 billion in public funds had been lost to graft, fake contracts and so-called ghost employees since 2003.

One in five Iraqis lives in poverty and youth unemployment stands at 25 percent, according to the World Bank.

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