CAIRO - Amateur video broadcast on Arab news channels Friday showed protesters in Basra, Iraq torching the Iranian consulate and chanting anti-Iran slogans. The Iraqi government declared a curfew, a day before the Iraqi parliament is due to meet to discuss the situation in the southern port city. The protesters say Iran is interfering in Iraqi politics and blame Iran for the poor public services in the oil-rich city.
Protesters chanted “Iran get out, Iran get out, free Iraq, free Iraq” as they set fire to the Iranian consulate in Basra. Thousands of protesters took to the streets after another night of violence in which government buildings, including Iraqi state TV, and Shi’ite political party offices, were set ablaze.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman indicated that no consulate staff have been hurt so far.
Al Arabiya TV also reported that Iraqi security forces had withdrawn from many of their positions inside the city in the face of the onslaught by protesters. VOA could not, however, independently confirm the claim. Protests have taken place since July over corruption, joblessness and poor municipal services.
One woman protesting told al Hurra TV that the government was doing nothing to address the protesters’ concerns.
She says that members of parliament are happy with their comfortable jobs in Baghdad's Green Zone, while the young men (in Basra) are going out and dying as they protest.
Basra security head Gen. Jamil al Shammari said recently on al Hurra TV that his men were “protecting the residents of Basra along with strategic government installations” in the face of what he called “violent protests.”
Shi’ite cleric Abdel Mehdi al Karbalai, representative of top Shi’ite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, told a Friday prayer gathering broadcast on Iraqi TV that protesters were fed up with government inaction.
He said that people have completely lost patience after everything they have endured and the utter lack of concern by government officials in trying to solve their problems.
Iraqi political activist Hamid Jahjiya echoed similar sentiments.
He told al Hurra that the violent reaction by the Basra protesters was a result of their increasing desperation and anger at the government.
The Iraqi parliament is due to meet Saturday to discuss the violence and how to address the demands of the protesters. Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al Sadr demanded that top government officials attend a parliament session “no later than Sunday,” or face what he called “a popular earthquake.”
Iraqi Shi’ite militia commander Hadi al Amiri called for Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi to “step down, or face dismissal by parliament,” but it was not clear how many votes the prime minister has in the newly-elected chamber.