Protests in Iraq are continuing for a second week, after they restarted on October 25th, with protesters blocking Baghdad, Basra and the holy city of Karbala.
Since the beginning of the first batch of protests between October 1st and 9th, and their return on October 25th, upwards of 250 people have been killed.
Iraqi President Barham Saleh said Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi would resign if political parties could agree on his replacement.
Demonstrators reportedly scaled the concrete barriers surrounding the Iranian consulate in the city of Karbala.
Security forces fired in the air to disperse the crowd, who threw stones and burned tires around the building on a street corner in Karbala, south of the capital, Baghdad.
Mustafa Saadoon, director of the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera that three protesters were killed during the assault on the Iranian consulate.
The Iranian consulate in the holy shrine city of Karbala. These scenes will be cause for deep concern in Tehran. pic.twitter.com/IqoTzCFAMV
— Ranj Alaaldin (@RanjAlaaldin) November 3, 2019
In Baghdad, protesters shut the main roads in the capital. Students staged sit-ins at their schools and government offices were closed on the first day of the working week in the Muslim nation.
Riot police deployed along the bridges fired tear gas at protesters. Amnesty International has criticised Iraqi forces for using two types of military-grade tear gas canisters that have pierced protesters’ skulls and lungs.
Thousands of people blocked access to the vital Umm Qasr port, near the southern city of Basra. But the general situation there was peaceful and there were no significant clashes between protesters and security forces.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi called for markets, factories, schools and universities to reopen after days of protests in the capital and across the mostly Shia south. He said the threat to oil facilities and the closure of roads had cost the country billions of dollars and contributed to price increases that affected everyone.
In his statement, Abdul Mahdi differentiated between peaceful protesters, who he said had turned the demonstrations into “popular festivals” that bring the nation together, and “outlaws” who he said had used the demonstrators as “human shields” while attacking security forces. The prime minister had met with top security officials late on Saturday.
In his weekly sermon, top Iraqi Shia leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani warned of “civil conflict, chaos and destruction” if the security forces or paramilitary groups crack down on the protests.
“No person or group, no side with a particular view, no regional or international actor may seize the will of the Iraqi people and impose its will on them,” he said.
His calls came one day after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomenei addressed the situation in Iraq.
“I seize this opportunity to tell those who care about Iraq … to remedy insecurity as their priority,” Khamenei said. The supreme leader blamed the United States its allies for spreading “insecurity and turmoil” in Iraq and Lebanon.
Feisal Istrabadi, a former Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations and director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East at Indiana University, warned the situation could deteriorate.
“I am very much afraid that is what’s coming next,” he told Al Jazeera, saying it is “nearly impossible” for the current leaders in Iraq to quell the ongoing protests.
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