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5 killed as Iraq protesters attack Iran consulate in Karbala

  • Published at 10:23 pm November 4th, 2019
Iraqi demonstrators set tires ablaze behind the walls protecting the Iranian consulate in the Shia Muslim shrine city of Karbala, south of Iraq's capital Baghdad on November 3, 2019 AFP

Overnight, a crowd of protesters had gathered in Karbala around the consulate of neighbouring Iran, which they accuse of propping up the government they are trying to overthrow

Iraqi security forces fired live rounds on Monday at anti-government protesters in Baghdad, hours after five demonstrators were shot dead outside the Iranian consulate in the holy city of Karbala.

It was the latest bloodshed in a wave of ongoing protests, road blocks and a campaign of civil disobedience waged by protesters accusing the Iraqi government of rampant corruption and clientelism.

About 12 people were wounded in Baghdad, medical and security sources said, when security forces opened fire on protesters massing near the state television headquarters, according to witnesses.

It was the first time live ammunition was fired at demonstrators in Baghdad since protests resumed on October 24, following a period in which riot police had switched to use tear gas amid accusations of "excessive force."

Some 270 people have lost their lives since the anti-government rallies broke out on October 1, according to an AFP count, but officials have stopped providing precise casualty numbers.

'Intent to kill' 

Overnight, a crowd of protesters had gathered in Karbala around the consulate of neighbouring Iran, which they accuse of propping up the government they are trying to overthrow. 

Protesters attacked the consulate, scaling the concrete barriers ringing the building, bringing down an Iranian flag, and replacing it with the Iraqi flag, the Associated Press reported quoting eyewitnesses. 

Protesters spray-painted "Karbala is free, Iran out, out!" on Iraqi flags, in a sign of increasing anger among some demonstrators against Tehran's perceived interference in Iraqi politics.

As the crowd grew, heavy gunfire and volleys of tear gas rang out.

"They're not firing up in the air. They intend to kill, not disperse," said one young protester wearing a medical mask about Iraqi forces guarding the mission.

The forensic medicine department later confirmed four protesters died after being shot.

Civil disobedience 

Iraq has close but complicated ties with its eastern neighbour Iran, with whom it fought a deadly war in the 1980s but which now has significant political and economic sway in Iraq.

Tehran has sought to reduce the protests next door, with sources reporting top commander Qassem Soleimani making several visits to "advise" Iraqi authorities on coping with the rallies.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also slammed the protests in Iraq and Lebanon, labelling them conspiracies by the US and others.

Undeterred by the latest violence, protesters pushed on Monday with civil disobedience tactics they have increasingly adopted over the past week, including sit-ins, road closures and strikes.

The national teachers' syndicate was the first to impose a nationwide strike, shutting down schools across the country, and other trade unions later joined in. 

Government offices in more than a half-dozen southern cities have been either stormed or closed for lack of staff, with demonstrators hanging banners reading "Closed by order of the people" in front of the buildings.