Emergency in Baghdad, curfew in Basra following burning of Iranian consulate

Protestors react in front of burning building in Basra, southeast of Baghdad, Iraq. (Supplied)

The Iraqi government has declared a state of maximum emergency in Baghdad and curfew in Basra. Al-Arabiya correspondent reported late on Friday that a large special force entered Basra to impose security in the city, after a day of protests and destruction till late evening, as angry demonstrators stormed and burned down the Iranian consulate.

There were reports of demonstrators heading towards the presidential palaces in Basra.

Demonstrators set fire to a number of government buildings and party headquarters on Thursday night.

The governor’s residence, the headquarters of political parties and armed groups were set ablaze, AFP correspondents reported.

Prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for an emergency parliamentary meeting tomorrow to focus exclusively on the Basra situation, and the subject of forming a government to be left for a later date.

The parliament, which held its inaugural session on Monday, was unable to elect its president. The session was adjourned until September 15.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s national security council met on Friday and said it was investigating casualties at the protests. Abadi, under pressure to promise more money to fix Basra’s public services, said funds that had previously been allocated would be released.

For its part, the militias Aasib milita issued a warning to Prime Minister Abadi. “Things have reached a dead end with Abadi and he has to resign.”

"If you threaten the existence of the state and the origin of the political process, we will intervene vigorously to preserve it," said the secretary-general of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq movement.

Protests spread across Iraq’s southern province of Basra on Friday as protesters stormed the Iranian consulate while others took workers hostage at a nearby oilfield.

The Iraqi government declared a state of emergency in Baghdad and curfew in Basra late Friday. Immediately after that, the coordinators of protests in Basra announced the withdrawal of demonstrations in the province.

The Coordination Committee for the demonstrations in Basra in a statement on Friday night said that it has decided to call on its followers to prevent some of the violent elements from distorting the peaceful demonstrations, and not to go out to the streets on Saturday.

Protesters also peacefully left a water treatment facility linked to Iraq’s West Qurna 2 oilfield, managed by Russia’s Lukoil, and released two Iraqi employees they had held hostage, a Lukoil source and a source with Basra’s police said.

Protesters held the facility for about an hour. Production was not disrupted, a manager at the oilfield said. West Qurna 2 oilfield lies 65 km north-west of Basra - a city hit by days of protests.

Hundreds of demonstrators stormed the Iranian consulate in the southern province of Basra, which has been witnessing protests for the past four days against the backdrop of social and service demands that resulted in the deaths of nine people.

The Iranian consulate in Basra confirmed the burning and destruction of its building which is located in the upscale neighborhood of al-Bardaiya, southeast of the city center. There were also reports of demonstrators heading towards the presidential palaces in Basra.

One of the demonstrators was killed in Basra shooting, according to the Al Arabiya correspondent. Security and medical sources confirmed the killing of the protestor and wounding 11 during the Basra demonstrations.

Curfew  imposed 

A statement issued by the military operations command in Basra said security officials had imposed a curfew on the entire city at 9pm local time (1800 GMT) amid violent protests.

The statement added that security forces would arrest anyone who was found on the street when the ban came into effect.

Following the burning of the Consulate, Iran closed the Shalamjah border crossing with Iraq and called on its citizens to leave Basra, according to Iraqi sources.

A spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry condemned the storming and burning of the Iranian consulate in Basra and reminded the Iraqi authorities of their “grave responsibility” in maintaining diplomatic missions, calling for the harshest sanctions against “elements behind the incident.”

“Unfortunately, the news is true, and as a result of the brutal attack and the burning of the consulate, there was a great financial loss,” Bahram Qasimi told a news conference on Friday night.

However, he stressed that all the Consular staff were safe.

According to an AFP photographer at the scene, thousands of demonstrators gathered in front of the Consulate, while hundreds stormed the building and set fire to it.

The photographer pointed toward the thick smoke that was rising from the building.

Demonstrators have targeted local government buildings and political party offices since protests intensified on Monday.

Social media showed protestors marching to the Iranian Consulate. The Iranian Consulate confirmed soon after that the building in Basra was burned and destroyed.

Protesters in Basra had stormed and set fire to a provincial government building and several Iran-backed political parties’ headquarters, before moving to the Iranian consulate on Thursday night where they chanted slogans against “Iranian interference” in their country.

Several social media users and news sites shared a video of one of the protesters condemning the “dependence of some officials on neighboring countries who claim that they are an Islamic state” where he was referring to Iran.

SEE ALSO: Iraq’s Sistani: Shortcomings of government have been exposed in Basra

The protester went on to say that Iran cut of the water supply from Iraq for their own benefit, adding that people’s living conditions are “tragic because our government is a subordinate and does not include any noble person.”

“We want an independent country not run by parties, no, no to political parties,” he said.

Meanwhile in Baghdad, an Associated Press report said security forces launched a search operation to determine the source of three mortar shells that landed inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.  There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the mortar shells that landed just after midnight Friday in an abandoned lot in the Green Zone, and no casualties were reported.

Later Friday, angry protesters marched to the city's presidential palaces compound, where Shiite paramilitary troops are stationed, and tried to breach it. At least three cars driven by the troops ploughed into the protesters, killing one and wounding four others, according to a health official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

Iraqi protesters had stormed and set fire to a provincial government building in Basra on Thursday, despite a curfew imposed by authorities to try and quell demonstrations against poor public services and unemployment that have turned violent.

The angry protesters burned the headquarters of the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia.

According to local security sources, one protester was killed, and 14 injured during the violent protests in Basra on Thursday.

Ten members of the security forces were also wounded, the sources said.

The  protests that began about a week ago in Basra have so far left at least 10 dead.

 

 

 

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