What happened: Iraqi security forces killed six protesters and the Iranian consulate in Najaf was burned down yesterday as Iraq was shaken by mass anti-government, and anti-Iran protests. Staff at the consulate escaped unharmed as demonstrators replaced the Iranian flag with an Iraqi flag. A curfew was subsequently imposed on Najaf.
- Two protesters were killed and 35 wounded when security forces used live ammunition to clear Baghdad’s historic Rasheed Street.
- Four protesters were killed in Karbala by security forces.
- Protesters are currently occupying three bridges in central Baghdad and have cut off access to major roads at the ports of Umm Qsr and Khor al-Zubair, reducing trade by 50 per cent and reducing access to key oil fields in West Qurna and Rumaila, although officials said oil production was not affected.
Context: At least 350 people have been killed, and security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas, and smoke bombs almost daily since protests started in early October.
- Protesters have accused the government of corruption and the poor quality of public services, infrastructure and high unemployment.
- Protesters have particularly taken aim at what they perceive to be extensive Iranian influence and interference in Iraq – the attack on the Iranian consulate in Najaf followed an attack on the Iranian consulate in Karbala three weeks ago.
Looking ahead: The protests in Iraq are largely about corruption, failure of governance and the inability to provide Iraqis with the basic services they require. But beneath this is a strong current of anti-Iranian sentiment driven by Iran’s clear priority to keep its ally, Iraq’s Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi in power. The heavy handed response to the protests, and the use of live fire and large loss of life, has been linked to Iranian advisors in Baghdad and a recent visit by Qods Force Chief, General Qassem Soleimani, who allegedly directed security council meetings and ordered a tougher response. There have also been reports that Iran allied Shia militias are attacking protestors, rather than the Iraqi armed forces. Last night’s events show that the violence is intensifying and has spread to largely Shia areas. There is no sign of a political solution and it is likely that the Iraqi Government, with Iranian help, will continue to believe it can use force to crush the protests.