ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Protesters on Friday set the Iranian Consulate ablaze in the southern province of Basra as demonstrations continued to intensify following the announcement that over six thousand residents had been hospitalized after drinking impure water.
For the fifth day in a row, hundreds of protesters enraged by the federal government's longstanding perceived negligence toward the province's people and infrastructure and the recent deaths of demonstrators poured into the streets, setting fire to multiple political party offices and government buildings, as witnessed by a Kurdistan 24 correspondent on the scene.
Most notably, they targetted the Iranian Consulate located in the city, one of six diplomatic representations it maintains in the country. Employees were reported to have evacuated the building as local firefighting teams rushed to the scene to put out the fire
Protesters told Kurdistan 24 that militias, the names of which were not specified, have fired live ammunition into the crowd, injuring at least some.
In an apparent response to the blaze, Iran closed its side of the Shalamcheh border crossing with Iraq, which adjoins Basra Province.
Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its regret for the attack on the diplomatic mission's building and condemned the action of the protesters. Shortly thereafter, according to the ISNA news agency, the spokesperson of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Baram Qassemi, stated “we demand punishment for those responsible” for the attack.
“The responsibility of full compensation for material and immaterial damage to the Iranian Consulate in Basra falls on Iraq,” Qasemi added.
The protests started in early July as people began demanding better public services including clean water, regular electricity, and better employment rates. Out-of-control governmental corruption is also a common rallying cry.
So far, over 20 people have died while protesting, and hundreds more were injured, according to local human rights groups.
Earlier on Friday, influential Shia cleric and winner of Iraq’s May election Muqtada al-Sadr publicly warned Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that failing to meet the demands of Basra protesters who "will not easily stand down," would be catastrophic.
Also on Friday, the US Consulate General in Basra expressed “deep concern” about protests in the oil-rich city, and called on the Iraqi government to investigate the allegations of excessive force being used against the demonstrators.
“The US Consulate General in Basrah [Basra] expresses its deep concern about the violence in some of the recent demonstrations and deeply regrets the lives lost and injuries sustained by protesters and security forces this summer. We express our solidarity with the citizens of Iraq, our community, during this difficult time,” the statement read.
The day before, the European Union (EU) highlighted the urgent need for Iraq to form a new government and respond to the demands of the demonstrators.
“The escalating violence at protests in the southern part of Iraq, which in the last two days reportedly left at least a further six protestors dead and many more injured, underlines the urgent need for a formation of a representative new government that will respond to the aspirations of the Iraqi people,” Maja Kocijancic, Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations said in its statement.
Editing by John J. Catherine