Iraq launches new bloody crackdown as Iranian consulate is torched

Baghdad's commercial hub feels pinch as Iraq protests continue

Clashes in the capital forced stores in Sinak market to shutter for long periods but some have since reopened

At least 350 people have died in Iraq since protests erupted on October 1 with daily battles in the heart of Baghdad as protesters attempt to gain control of the key downtown bridges leading to the seat of government.

An official from Najaf Hospital told an Anadolu Agency correspondent that 32 demonstrators were injured in a fight between demonstrators and security forces before the Iranian Consulate General was set on fire.

In Hillah, south of Baghdad, security forces fired tear gas grenades at protesters overnight, wounding around 60 people, medics there said.

The provincial governor in Nasiriyah, Adel al-Dakhili, blamed the crackdown on Shummary, who was the military commander in the southern port city of Basra when demonstrations there were brutally suppressed in 2018.

At least 350 people have been killed and thousands wounded since the unrest began.

The demonstrations are the biggest threat to the Shiite-dominated ruling class in the post-Saddam era.

In Nassiriya, government offices were set on fire and schools were closed on Sunday (the first day of the work and school week in Iraq) despite Education Ministry orders to keep them open.

In the southern city of Basra, a prominent supporter of the protests was assassinated in his auto, a security official said.

Mahjoob Zweiri, director of the Gulf Studies Center at Qatar University, talks to Al Jazeera about Iraqi protesters' apparent anger at Iran. The embassy's Thursday statement also condemned attacks and harassment against journalists.

By Thursday afternoon, special forces were transferred from neighboring Najaf and Diwanieh provinces to Nasiriyah to contain the violence, security officials said.

The consulate staff had evacuated before the incident, sources said.

Sit-ins, road closures and street marches have shuttered public offices and schools for weeks in many southern cities.

So far, the authorities have been unyielding in response to the unrest, shooting dead hundreds of demonstrators with live ammunition and tear gas, while floating proposals for political reform that the protesters dismiss as trivial and cosmetic.

The country is OPEC's second-largest crude producer, and oil exports fund more than 90 percent of the government's budget. "This brutal onslaught is just the latest in a long series of deadly events where Iraqi security forces meted out appalling violence against largely peaceful protesters", said Lynn Maalouf, Middle East research director for the rights groups.

Most Iraqis have been unimpressed by the government's reform plans, which include hiring drives, increased social welfare and electoral reform.

Protesters have accused the ruling elite of embezzling for personal gain state funds that are desperately needed to fix failing public services and rehabilitate schools.

Iraqi army and pro-government fighters from the Popular Mobilization Units, commonly known as Hashd al-Sha'abi, are engaged in joint operations to win back militant-held areas of the country.

Corruption is rampant in Iraq, ranked the world's 12th most corrupt country by Transparency International.

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