Alwaght- Protests in Iraq’s Basra city took an ugly turn on Friday as a group of masked assailants ransacked government buildings and offices of political parties and set fire to them in the southern oil-rich city of Basra, drawing condemnation from officials who said they believe the US, ISIS terrorists and remnants of former Ba’ath regime were behind the violence.
Protesters have taken to the streets of Basra over the past few days to condemn corruption and lack of basic service and criticize the government for the collapse of regional infrastructure, but protests turned violent as some premises, including the Iranian consulate, were damaged in violent rampages.
Sheikh Qais al-Khazali, secretary general of Iraq’s Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq group, a main component of the Popular Mobilization Units also known by its Arabic name Hashd al-Sha’abi, said that the Basra riots were part of an American project to disintegrate the Arab country.
He also warned that the situation in Basra had reached a boiling point and that Washington sought to designate a US-allied person as the new Iraqi prime minister.
Khazali stressed that Iraqi fighters would not allow the Basra crisis to turn into a sectarian strife.
Ammar Hakim, Iraqi Shia cleric and head of National Wisdom Movement (Hikma), released a statement expressing concern about the Basra incident.
He warned that the country is at a dangerous juncture and needs realistic reflection.
Hakim also condemned attempts meant to turn peaceful protests into deliberate destruction of public property.
The Iraqi Health Ministry said a total of 12 people had been killed and 50 others injured since Tuesday when the Basra violence erupted.
Basra Coordination Committee said the latest acts of sabotage had been committed by Daesh elements and Ba'athists.
It also announced a halt to protests on Saturday in order to "study mistakes that led to the burning of buildings that has nothing to do with the grievances of the protesters."
Additionally, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said the storming of the Iranian consulate had nothing to do with protesters’ demands.
“The targeting of diplomatic missions is unacceptable and detrimental to the interests of Iraq,” said ministry spokesman Ahmed Mahjoub.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered an investigation into the protest deaths and instructed security forces not to use live ammunition.