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28 killed after protesters torch Iran consulate in Najaf

Demonstrators set fire in front of the Iranian consulate, as they gather during ongoing anti-government protests in Najaf, Iraq November 27, 2019.

Demonstrators set fire in front of the Iranian consulate, as they gather during ongoing anti-government protests in Najaf, Iraq November 27, 2019.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

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At least 24 people died when Iraqi troops opened fire on demonstrators who blocked a bridge in the southern city of Nassiriya before dawn on Thursday.

Iraqi security forces shot dead at least 28 protesters on Thursday after demonstrators stormed and torched an Iranian consulate overnight in the southern city of Najaf, in what could mark a turning point in the uprising against the Tehran-backed authorities.

At least 24 people died when troops opened fire on demonstrators who blocked a bridge in the southern city of Nassiriya before dawn on Thursday. Medical sources said dozens of others were wounded.

Four others were killed in the capital Baghdad, where security forces opened fire with live ammunition and rubber bullets against protesters near a bridge over the Tigris river.

The attack was the strongest expression yet of the anti-Iranian sentiment of Iraqi demonstrators, who have taken to the streets for weeks in Baghdad and the Shi'ite Muslim-majority south - and have been gunned down in their hundreds by Iraqi security forces.

Staff at the consulate had evacuated shortly before demonstrators broke in, police and civil defence first responders said.

Local authorities imposed a curfew following the incident, State media reported.

The protests that began in Baghdad on October 1 and have spread through southern cities are the most complex challenge facing the Shi'ite-dominated ruling class that has controlled state institutions and patronage networks since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.

Young, mostly Shi'ite protesters say politicians are corrupt, beholden to foreign powers - especially Iran - and blame them for a failure to recover from years of conflict despite relative calm since the defeat of Islamic State in 2017.

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

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.

Authorities have warned against exploitation of the unrest by armed groups, especially should protest-related violence spread to northern Iraq, where IS militants are waging an insurgency.

The Sunni extremist group on Thursday claimed three bomb blasts in Baghdad overnight which killed at least six people, although they 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.”

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.”

PM expresses concern

 

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.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 2:04:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/iraq-protesters-torch-iran-consulate-in-najaf-curfew-imposed/article30102010.ece

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