BAGHDAD – Anti-government protesters burned down an Iranian consulate building in southern Iraq on Wednesday, while six protesters were killed by security forces who fired live rounds amid ongoing violence in the country, Iraqi officials said Wednesday.
Protesters torched the consulate in the holy 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.
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 official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The incident marked an escalation in the demonstrations that have raged in Baghdad and across the mostly Shiite southern Iraq since Oct. 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.
Protesters previously attacked the Iranian Consulate in Karbala earlier this month, scaling concrete barriers running the building.
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 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 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 tear gas 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 port 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 percent, according to the port official 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.
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.