Dozens of Iraqi protesters attacked the Iranian consulate in the Shiite holy city of Karbala on Sunday, scaling the concrete barriers ringing the building, bringing down an Iranian flag and replacing it with the Iraqi flag, eyewitnesses said.
Security forces fired in the air to disperse the protesters who threw stones and burned tires around the building on a street corner in Karbala south of Baghdad. But Reuters quotes security and medical sources as saying the gunfire from security forces killed three protesters.
The crowd had tried to set fire to the consulate, the sources said. At least seven people, including six members of the security forces, were injured, the sources added.
The protests are directed at a postwar 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 neighboring Iran and the powerful Iraqi Shiite 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 this month.
The protests have grown and demonstrators are now calling for sweeping changes, not just the government's resignation.
Tens of thousands of protesters have 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 U.S.-led invasion. Protesters have also taken over a large tower in the square that was abandoned after it was damaged in the war.
Thousands of students have 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 massive rallies demanding wide-ranging political change.
Security forces have fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition at the protesters, killing at least 256 people in two waves of demonstrations since early October. Since the protests restarted on Oct. 25 after a brief hiatus, there have been near-continuous clashes on two bridges leading to the heavily fortified Green Zone, the headquarters of the government and home to several foreign embassies.
The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights meanwhile said Siba al-Mahdawi, an activist and physician who has taken part in the protests, was abducted on Saturday night by an unknown group. The semi-official body called on the government and the security forces to reveal her whereabouts. Al-Mahdawi was one of several doctors who have volunteered to provide medical aid to the protesters.
Reporting by AP, Reuters