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 Wednesday.
Protesters destroyed the Iranian consulate in the city of Najaf in the evening. 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. Authorities declared curfew in Najaf after the incident. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with regulations.
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.
The incident marked an escalation in the demonstrations that have raged in Baghdad and across the mostly Shiite southern Iraq since October 1. 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, tear gas 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 tear gas to repel demonstrators from advancing beyond a concrete barrier. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
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.
In Karbala, four protesters were killed by live fire from security forces over the previous 24 hours.
Three of the anti-government protesters were killed when security forces fired live rounds to disperse crowds in the city of Karbala late Tuesday, security and medical officials said. One protester died of wounds suffered when a tear gas canister struck him in clashes earlier in the day. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with regulations.
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 epicenter of weeks of anti-government protests that have posed the biggest security challenge to Iraq since the defeat of the Islamic State group.
Roads between Karbala and Baghdad were blocked by protesters Wednesday. Demonstrators have burned tires and cut access to main roads in several southern provinces in recent days.
In the southern city of Basra, protesters continued to cut major roads to the main Gulf commodities ports in Umm Qasr and Khor al-Zubair, reducing trade activity by 50 percent, according to port officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
Protesters also blocked roads leading to major oil fields in West Qurna and Rumaila. A senior oil ministry official said crude production was not impacted by the closures.