Iraq’s southern hotspot of Nasiriyah was in bloody upheaval yesterday after a government crackdown killed 25 protesters and thousands defied a curfew to march in their funerals, following the dramatic torching of an Iranian consulate.
Iraq’s capital and south have been torn by the worst street unrest since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, as a protest movement has vented their fury at their government and its backers in neighbouring Iran.
Late Wednesday, protesters outraged at Tehran’s political influence in Iraq burned down the Iranian consulate in the shrine city of Najaf, yelling “Victory to Iraq!” and “Iran out!”
Demonstrators across Iraq have blamed powerful eastern neighbour Iran for propping up the Baghdad government which they are seeking to topple.
In response, Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi early yesterday ordered military chiefs to deploy in several restive provinces to “impose security and restore order”, the army said.
But by the afternoon, after the protesters’ deaths, the PM had already removed one of the commanders, General Jamil Shummary.
Shummary had been dispatched to the premier’s birthplace of Nasiriyah, a southern city that has been a protest hotspot for weeks.
The ensuing crackdown was particularly bloody, with at least 25 protesters killed and more than 200 wounded as security forces cleared sit-ins with live fire, medics and security sources said.
The provincial governor in Nasiriyah, Adel al-Dakhili, blamed the crackdown on Shummary, who was the military commander of the southern port city of Basra when demonstrations there were brutally suppressed in 2018.
Dakhili demanded the premier sack him, and hours later, state television announced Abdel Mahdi had ordered Shummary removed from the post.
The latest violence brought the death toll since early October to over 370, with more than 15,000 wounded according to an AFP tally, as authorities are not releasing updated or precise figures.
Thousands of Nasiriyah’s residents took to the streets to mourn the city’s dead in funeral processions, defying a curfew announced there earlier in the day.
Demonstrators who had been dispersed by security forces regrouped at Nasiriyah’s police station, setting it on fire.
Events in southern Iraq have unfolded dramatically since late Wednesday, when protesters stormed the Iranian consulate in the Shia holy city of Najaf.
They set tyres and other items ablaze around the consulate, sending tall flames and thick clouds of smoke into the night sky, an AFP correspondent witnessed. They also broke into the building itself, which had been apparently evacuated by its Iranian staff.