Iraqi Protesters Set Iranian Consulate Ablaze In Basra

Demonstrators stormed the Iranian Consulate in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, damaging offices before setting the building on fire, security officials and witnesses say.

Security officials said the consulate was empty when the Iraqi protesters set the building ablaze on September 7 and shouted condemnation of what they perceive as Tehran’s excessive influence over Iraq’s political situation.

The violence occurred during the fifth day of bloody demonstrations by Iraqis against their government, with at least 11 people being killed in Basra in clashes with security forces and many official buildings being ransacked and set on fire.

The casualties were reported on September 7 as the authorities announced a citywide curfew in Basra beginning at 9 p.m. local time.

Iran and Iraq -- enemies in a brutal eight-year war that ended in 1988 -- have developed close ties since Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003 by a U.S.-led invasion. Shi'a-led Iran has become heavily involved in Iraq's political affairs and sponsors powerful Shi'ite militia groups that played a role in defeating Islamic State (IS) extremists last year.

Iraq's population is 60-65 percent Shi’a, 15-20 percent Sunni Arab, and 17 percent Sunni Kurd, creating a tense balance of power in the country.

News agencies quoted Basra residents and protesters as saying they have become angered by corruption, mismanagement, and a collapse of infrastructure that has led to a loss of electricity and safe drinking water in the blazing summer heat.

Smaller protests have been reported in other cities, including the capital, Baghdad, and Karbala.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi's national security council met on September 7 and said it was investigating reports of casualties in protests over the five-day period.

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the leading authority among members of Iraq's Shi'ite majority, blamed the country’s political leaders for the unrest and said a new government “different from its predecessors" should be formed.

"This reality cannot change if the next government is formed according to the same criteria adopted when forming previous governments. Pressure must be exerted for the new government to be different from its predecessors," the 88-year-old Sistani said.

Abadi and powerful Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced on June 23 that they had agreed on a political coalition to form a new government after inconclusive national elections.

Sadr's political bloc, which includes communists, won 54 seats in the the legislative elections, making it the largest grouping in Iraq's 329-seat parliament.

The political uncertainty helped raise tensions amid growing public anger over poor basic services, unemployment, and the slow pace of rebuilding following the long battle with the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

The Western-backed government has also attempted to delicately balance relations with the United States and mainly Shi’ite Iran, which are bitter rivals.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa