Baghdad: Iraqi security forces shot dead at least 28 protesters on Thursday after demonstrators stormed and torched an Iranian consulate overnight, in what could mark a turning point in the uprising against the Tehran-backed authorities. The deaths came as Iraq said Thursday it was forming joint military-civilian “crisis cells” to quell the unrest.
At least 24 people died when troops opened fire on demonstrators who blocked a bridge in the southern city of Nassiriya before dawn on Thursday. Medical sources said dozens of others were wounded.
Four others were killed in the capital Baghdad, where security forces opened fire with live ammunition and rubber bullets against protesters near a bridge over the Tigris river.
The incidents marked one of the bloodiest days since the uprising began at the start of October with anti-corruption demonstrations that have since swelled into a revolt against authorities scorned by young demonstrators as stooges of Tehran.
In Najaf, a city of ancient pilgrimage shrines that serves as seat of Iraq’s powerful Shi’ite clergy, the Iranian consulate was reduced to a charred ruin after it was stormed overnight.
Protesters accused the Iraqi authorities of turning against their own people to defend Iran.
“All the riot police in Najaf and the security forces started shooting at us as if we were burning Iraq as a whole,” a protester who witnessed the burning of the consulate told Reuters, asking that he not be identified.
Another protester, Ali, described the attack on the consulate as “a brave act and a reaction from the Iraqi people.
We don’t want the Iranians.”
But he predicted more violence: “There will be revenge from Iran, I’m sure. They’re still here and the security forces are going to keep shooting at us.”
Meanwhile, Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi on Thursday sacked the military commander he had dispatched earlier in the day to “restore order” to a protest-hit southern city after a crackdown there killed 22 protesters.
Abdel Mahdi, who is also the commander-in-chief of Iraq’s armed forces, had ordered military chiefs to deploy across the south on Thursday morning, sending Jamil Shummary to the city of Nasiriyah.
But state television announced the premier had “withdrawn” Shummary from the post by the afternoon.