Wednesday 19 December 2018

Rockets fired at Basra Airport amid anti-Iran protests

The southern Iraqi city has been the epicentre of angry protests over decades of government neglect, poor services and corruption.

Protesters in Basra (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)
Protesters in Basra (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)

By Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Associated Press

Assailants have fired three rockets at Basra Airport in Iraq after a chaotic night that saw hundreds of protesters setting ablaze the Iranian consulate, attacking offices belonging to Iranian-backed militias and blocking roads.

The city of Basra, home to some of the largest oil fields in Iraq, has been the epicentre of angry protests over decades of government neglect, poor services and corruption.

The demonstrations are the most serious to shake the oil-rich southern Shiite area in years, demanding an end to endemic corruption, soaring joblessness and crumbling infrastructure.

This week, they turned their rage on neighbouring Iran, blaming its influence in Iraq’s political affairs for their misery.

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Protesters storm the Basra government building (Nabil al-Jurani/AP)

An official said it was not clear who was behind the attack on Basra Airport, which also houses the US consulate.

He said the attack did not cause casualties or disrupt flights in or out of the city.

Iraq’s parliament is holding an emergency session to discuss the unrest in Basra.

Hours earlier, protesters shouting anti-Iranian slogans including “Iran, out, out!” stormed the Iranian consulate and set a fire inside. They also burned an Iranian flag and trampled over a portrait of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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Protesters burn an Iranian flag (Nabil al-Jurani/AP)

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi condemned the attack, which he said caused significant damage to the building. He called for maximum punishment for the assailants.

Elsewhere in the city, protesters tried to attack the headquarters of the Iran-backed Assaib Ahl Al-Haq Shiite militia and the guards stationed there opened fire.

Angry protesters marched to the city’s presidential palaces compound, where Shiite paramilitary troops are stationed, and tried to breach it.

At least three cars driven by troops ploughed into the protesters, killing one and wounding four others, according to a health official.

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Protesters raise the Iraqi flag over the Basra government building (Nabil al-Jurani/AP)

On Saturday, the two-storey consulate was partially burned. An Iraqi flag was placed at the entrance to the building after the Iranian one was snatched away and set ablaze at night.

Sprayed in red on the concrete wall of the consulate were the words: “Down with Iran, down with the militias, the revolution will continue.”

The provincial government building in the centre of Basra was completely torched and several burned cars were seen in the city’s presidential palaces compound.

At least 15 protesters have died in clashes with security forces since Monday, including three who were shot by security forces on Thursday night.

The violence has forced the closure of the vital Um Qasr port on the Persian Gulf.

A provincial official with state-run Iraqi Ports Co said authorities closed the port on the Persian Gulf on Wednesday, fearing sabotage.

Press Association

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