In the southern city of Najaf, anti-government protesters set fire to the Iranian consulate and burned it to the ground. According to human rights organizations and medical authorities, 20 Iraqis were shot dead in a 24 hour period, six in Najaf alone.
The protesters are demanding that the government resign and that a new non-sectarian electoral law created that bring competence to government. But the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has been dragging its feet on reforms and the protests are growing.
Young, mostly Shi’ite protesters say politicians are corrupt, beholden to foreign powers – especially Iran – and they blame them for a failure to recover from years of conflict despite relative calm since the defeat of Islamic State in 2017.
Security forces opened fire on protesters who had gathered on a bridge in Nassiriya before dawn, medical sources said. Sixteen were killed and dozens wounded, they said.
The burning of the consulate was an especially significant act of defiance.
A curfew was imposed in Najaf after protesters stormed and set fire to the Iranian consulate late on Wednesday. Businesses and government offices remained closed in the city, state media reported.
“The burning of the consulate last night was a brave act and a reaction from the Iraqi people – we don’t want the Iranians,” said Ali, a protester in Najaf. “There will be revenge from Iran I’m sure, they’re still here and the security forces are going to keep shooting us.”
To quote the old Klingon proverb, “Schadenfreude is a dish best served cold.” Iran was none too pleased with their territory being attacked by a foreign country. This is amusing since they didn’t mind attacking U.S. territory in Tehran in 1979.
Iran said on Nov. 28 the Iraqi government is responsible for protecting its consulate in the holy city of Najaf, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, a day after Iraqi protesters attacked and set fire to the building.
“The Iraqi government is responsible to secure safety of diplomatic missions and diplomats in Iraq … Tehran strongly condemns the attack and demands the Iraqi government’s firm response to the aggressors,” State TV quoted Mousavi as saying.
Where’s the world’s smallest violin when you need it.
Indeed, Iranian-backed militias are already taking matters into their own hands.
A protester who witnessed the burning of the consulate said security forces had opened fire to try to stop it.
“All the riot police in Najaf and the security forces started shooting at us, as if we were burning Iraq as a whole,” he said, declining to give his name.
How much control does the Iraq government exert over these fanatical Shiite warriors?
The military commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an umbrella grouping of paramilitary groups whose most powerful factions are close to Tehran, said the groups would use full force against anyone trying to attack Iraq’s most powerful Shi’ite cleric, who is based in Najaf.
“We will cut the hand of anyone trying to get near (Grand Ayatollah Ali) al-Sistani,” commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis said in a statement on the PMF website.
Observers said the events in Najaf would likely bring a tough response, rather than pushing the government into enacting reforms.
Why should Iraqi elites deliberately take steps to castrate themselves? The demonstrators are going for the gold — upending society by forcing a non-sectarian government on the very sectarian leadership while kicking the powerful Iranians out of the country and halting the corruption by which the entire political class benefits.
Eventually, it will dawn on the protesters that the only way they’re going to achieve their revolutionary goals is with guns. And given the divisions already present, a bloody civil war could be in the offing.