• Thursday, Jan 30, 2020
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Iraqi forces kill at least 68 protesters after Iranian consulate torched

  • Published at 09:20 am November 29th, 2019
Iraq-Consulate-68-killed
Demonstrators set fire in front of the Iranian consulate, as they gather during ongoing anti-government protests in Najaf, Iraq November 27, 2019 Reuters

At least 46 people died in the southern city of Nassiriya when troops opened fire on demonstrators who blocked a bridge before dawn on Thursday and later gathered outside a police station. Police and medical sources said dozens of others were wounded

Iraqi security forces shot dead at least 68 protesters on Thursday after demonstrators stormed and torched an Iranian consulate overnight, in what could mark a turning point in the uprising against the Tehran-backed authorities.

At least 46 people died in the southern city of Nassiriya when troops opened fire on demonstrators who blocked a bridge before dawn on Thursday and later gathered outside a police station. Police and medical sources said dozens of others were wounded.

Four people were killed in Baghdad, where security forces opened fire with live ammunition and rubber bullets against protesters near a bridge over the Tigris river, the sources said, and 18 died in clashes in Najaf.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced his resignation yesterday after the country's top Shi'ite Muslim cleric called for lawmakers to reconsider their support for a government rocked by weeks of deadly anti-establishment unrest.

In Nassiriya thousands of mourners took to the streets, defying a curfew to bury their dead after the mass shooting.

Video of protesters cheering in the night as flames billowed from the consulate were a stunning image after years in which Tehran's influence among Shi'ite Muslims in Arab states has been a defining factor in Middle East politics.

The bloodshed that followed was one of the most violent days since the uprising began at the start of October, with anti-corruption demonstrations that swelled into a revolt against authorities seen by young demonstrators as stooges of Tehran.

Iran closed the Mehran border crossing to Iraq on Thursday night because of security reasons, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported, citing a local border official.

"With attention to the recent events and the unrest in the country of Iraq the Mehran border has been closed from tonight," Mojtaba Soleimani, the manager of the border post said, according to Mehr.

He said it was not clear when the border would reopen.

In Najaf, a city of ancient pilgrimage shrines that serves as seat of Iraq's powerful Shi'ite clergy, the Iranian consulate was reduced to a charred ruin after it was stormed overnight.

The protesters, overwhelmingly Shi'ite, accused the Iraqi authorities of turning against their own people to defend Iran.

"All the riot police in Najaf and the security forces started shooting at us as if we were burning Iraq as a whole," a protester who witnessed the burning of the consulate told Reuters, asking not to be identified.

Another protester, Ali, described the attack on the consulate as "a brave act and a reaction from the Iraqi people. We don't want the Iranians".

But he predicted more violence: "There will be revenge from Iran, I'm sure. They're still here and the security forces are going to keep shooting at us."

Iran's foreign ministry condemned the attack and demanded "the Iraqi government's firm response to the aggressors".

So far, the authorities have been unyielding in response to the unrest, shooting dead hundreds of demonstrators with live ammunition and tear gas, while floating proposals for political reform that the protesters dismiss as trivial and cosmetic.