Dozens of Iraqi protesters have attacked the Iranian consulate in the holy city of the Shiites of Karbala, in a clear sign of growing anger at Tehran's alleged involvement in Iraqi politics.
Witnesses quoted by news agencies as saying that protesters on Sunday scaled concrete barriers around the building, removing the Iranian flag and replacing it with one from Iraq.
Security forces fired into the air to disperse the crowds that were throwing stones and burning tires around a corner building on a street in Karbala, south of the capital, Baghdad.
There are no incident reports of casualties in the wake of ongoing protests in Baghdad provinces and most southern Shiites demanding a review of the political system.
Iranian Consulate in the Holy Temple of Karbala. These scenes will cause deep concern in Tehran. pic.twitter.com/IqoTzCFAMV
̵1; Rand Alaaldin (@RanjAlaaldin) November 3, 2019
Demonstrations are rooted in longstanding complaints of mismanagement, official corruption, and lack of economic opportunity, have since expanded into demands for rapid change and a major overview of the country's political system created after the 2003 US-led invasion.
Demonstrators target their fierce class of elite leaders who accuse them of oil robbery – enrich the wealth of the country as long as the population it gets poorer.
But protesters have also turned their ire to neighboring Iran and the powerful Iraqi Shiite militias associated with it.
In their weekly sermon, Supreme Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani warned of "civil conflict, chaos and destruction" if security forces or paramilitary groups break up in protests, while giving an obvious nod to protesters who claim too much nod. that the government is manipulating ed. from abroad, especially from Iran.
"No person or group, no country with a particular point of view, no regional or international actor can take the will of the Iraqi people and impose their will on them,"
Sistani, who can usually make or break a government decision in Iraq, came a day after comments by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"I take this opportunity to tell those who care about Iraq … to fix insecurity as their priority," said Khamenei. The supreme leader accused the United States of his allies of spreading "insecurity and turmoil "in Iraq and Lebanon where similar demonstrations have been held for weeks, calling on anti-government protesters in both countries to seek legal change.
Both the United States and Iran enjoy considerable political and military influence in Iraq, and protesters accuse the political elite of subjugation to one or the other without worrying about the needs of ordinary people.
The protests that began more than a month ago often turn out to be violent, as Iraqi security forces open fire and protesters set fire to government buildings and headquarters for Iranian-backed militias, killing more than 250 in the destruction of security.
Feisal Istrabadi, a former Iraqi ambassador to the UN and director of the Center for Middle East Studies at Indiana University, warned that the situation could get worse.  "I am very afraid that this is the next one," he told Al Jazeera, saying it was "almost impossible" for current leaders in Iraq to quell ongoing protests.
Statement by the Prime Minister
In recent days, thousands of people have blocked access to the vital port of Umm Kasser near the southern city of Basra, while others have closed roads, offices and schools in Baghdad and elsewhere.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Sunday called for markets, faculties, schools and universities to reopen saying "it is time for life to return to normal."
He said in a statement the threat to oil facilities and road closures has cost the country "billions" of dollars and contributes to price hikes that affect everyone.
In his statement, Abdul Mahdi distinguished between peaceful protesters who, in his view, turned the demonstrations into "popular festivals" that united the nation, and "outsiders" who, in his view, used the demonstrators as "human shields," while attacking security forces. The prime minister met with senior security officials late Saturday.
Last week, President Barham Salih declared that Abdul-Mahdi was ready to resign after political leaders agreed to a replacement. He also called for a new election law and said he would approve early parliamentary studies once it is passed.
In a meeting with union leaders Sunday, Salih stated that a new election law would be tabled in Parliament this week.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi High Commission on Human Rights said that Shiba al-Mahdavi, an activist and doctor involved in the protests, had been abducted by an unknown group on Saturday night.
The semi-official body calls on the government and security forces to disclose its whereabouts. Al-Mahdavi was one of several doctors who voluntarily provided medical assistance to protesters.