Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered an investigation into deadly violence in the southern city of Basra after protesters stormed the Iranian consulate there.
Al-Abadi said late on Friday that he had instructed security forces to act decisively against the “acts of vandalism” that accompanied the demonstrations.
The order came after protesters set fire to the Iranian consulate on Friday as part of weeks-long demonstrations over poor services and lack of jobs.
At least 12 people have been killed in Basra since Tuesday, according to the health ministry.
Separately, on Saturday, three Katyusha rockets struck the perimeter of the city’s airport but did not disrupt operations or cause damage.
Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, which includes the army and police, said on Friday there would be a “severe” response with “exceptional security measures”, including banning protests and group travel.
Security officials have announced a city-wide curfew in Basra, a city of two million, warning that “anyone in the street” would be arrested.
Basra has been the epicentre of protests that have rocked Iraq since July, with anger fuelled by pollution of the water supply that left 30,000 people in hospital.
Protests intensified earlier this week, causing several deaths as demonstrators torched government buildings, as well as political party and armed group offices.
On Friday, thousands of people rallied outside the Iranian consulate in Basra, shouting anti-Iran slogans and condemning what they perceived as Tehran’s interference in their country’s politics.
The building was reportedly empty when the crowd burst in and set it alight, and no staff were hurt.
Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said the storming of the consulate, which it deeply regretted, had nothing to do with protesters’ demands.
“The targeting of diplomatic missions is unacceptable and detrimental to the interests of Iraq,” said ministry spokesman, Ahmed Mahjoub.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Bahram Qassemi, blamed Iraq for failing to protect the building and said Baghdad had to “identify and punish the attackers quickly.”
The Iraqi ambassador to Tehran was also summoned to the Iranian foreign ministry.
|The Iranian consulate was reportedly empty when it was torched [Haider Mohammed Ali/AFP]|
Several foreign governments have consulates in Basra, including the United States and Russia.
In a statement, the US State Department condemned the violence and called on all parties “to uphold the right of peaceful protest and to protect diplomats and their facilities”.
Abbas Kadhim, a professor at George Washington University, told Al Jazeera that protesters hold Iranian-backed political parties responsible for the mismanagement and poor services in the city.
“The anger is directed in every direction, against all,” he said.
“There is a lot of Iranian influence among Basra groups, whether they are in local politics or in the social groups, including the fighting groups,” he said.
|Protesters torched the Iranian consulate in Basra as part of protests over poor public services [Haider Mohammed Ali/AFP]|
The unrest comes at a politically volatile time for Iraq, with legislators still trying to form a new government, after an inconclusive election in May.
The new parliament finally met on Monday for the first time but broke up a day later having failed to elect a speaker, much less name the next prime minister.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies