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Protesters attack Iranian consulate in Karbala, hoist Iraqi flag

BAGHDAD, Iraq: A large number of protesters in Iraq attacked the Iranian consulate in the holy city of Karbala on Sunday night. They removed the concrete barriers surrounding the building and brought down an Iranian flag and replacing it with the Iraqi flag.

The protesters threw stones and burned tires around the building on a street corner in Karbala south of Baghdad. Security forces fired in the air to disperse the protesters.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in the incident, which comes amid ongoing protests in the capital Baghdad and majority-Shia provinces in the south.

There have been reports of the government beefing up security in the area.

The protests are directed at a post-war political system and a class of elite leaders that Iraqis accuse of pillaging the country’s wealth while the country grows poorer.

But protesters have also directed their rage at neighbouring Iran and the powerful Iraqi Shia militias tied to it.

The anti-government protests in Karbala, Baghdad and cities across southern Iraq have often turned violent, with security forces opening fire and protesters torching government buildings and headquarters of Iran-backed militias.

More than 250 people have been killed in the security crackdown following the protests.

Thousands of protesters had gathered in Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square and across southern Iraq in recent days, calling for the overhaul of the political system established after the 2003 US-led invasion.

Students skipped classes to take part in the street rallies, blaming the political elite for widespread corruption, high unemployment and poor public services.

Iraq’s prime minister on Sunday called on anti-government protesters to reopen roads saying “it’s time for life to return to normal,” after a month of significant rallies demanding wide-ranging political change.

In a statement, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi called for markets, factories, schools and universities to reopen after days of protests in the capital and across the mostly Shia south.

He said the threat to oil facilities and the closure of roads had cost the country “billions” of dollars and contributed to price increases that affect everyone.