Medical sources said on Thursday that the Iraqi security forces shot dead 14 protesters in the southern city of Nassiriya and authorities imposed a curfew in Najaf after demonstrators burned an Iranian consulate.
However, authorities have set up joint military-civilian `crisis cells’ to try to stem unrest.
The torching of the consulate in Najaf, the southern holy city, escalated violence in Iraq after weeks of mass demonstrations that aim to bring down a government seen as corrupt and backed by Tehran.
The inability of Iraq’s government and political class to deal with the unrest and answer protesters’ demands has fueled public anger.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has promised electoral and anti-corruption reform but barely begun delivering while security forces have shot dead hundreds of mostly peaceful demonstrators in the streets of Baghdad and southern cities.
The protests, which began in Baghdad on Oct. 1 and have spread through southern cities, are the most complex challenge facing the Shi’ite-dominated ruling class.
The rulling class has controlled state institutions and patronage networks since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled long-time Sunni ruler Saddam Hussein.
Shi’ite protesters say politicians are corrupt, beholden to foreign powers especially Iran and they blame them for a failure to recover from years of conflict despite relative calm since the defeat of Islamic State in 2017.
Security forces opened fire on protesters who had gathered on a bridge in Nassiriya before dawn. Fourteen were killed and dozens were wounded.
State media reported that businesses and government offices remained closed in the city.
Ali, protester in Najaf said the burning of the consulate was a brave act and a reaction from the Iraqi people adding that “we don’t want the Iranians’’.
He said this was the strongest expression yet of the anti-Iranian sentiment of Iraqi demonstrators. (Reuters/NAN)