Iraqi security forces have shot dead at least 45 protesters after demonstrators stormed and torched an Iranian consulate in Najaf, in what could mark a turning point in the uprising against the Tehran-backed authorities.
At least 29 people died in the southern city of Nassiriya when troops opened fire on demonstrators who blocked a bridge before dawn on Thursday and later gathered outside a police station. Police and medical sources said dozens of others were wounded.
Four people were killed in Baghdad, where security forces opened fire with live ammunition and rubber bullets against protesters near a bridge over the Tigris river, the sources said, and twelve died in clashes in Najaf.
In Nassiriya thousands of mourners took to the streets, defying a curfew to bury their dead after the mass shooting.
Video of protesters cheering in the night as flames billowed from the consulate were a stunning image after years in which Tehran’s influence among Shia Muslims in Arab states has been a defining factor in Middle East politics.
The bloodshed that followed on Thursday was one of the most violent days since the uprising began at the start of October, with anti-corruption demonstrations that swelled into a revolt against authorities seen by young demonstrators as stooges of Tehran.
While many of the protests focus on domestic issues, like corruption and lack of job opportunities, the post-Saddam years have seen Iran embed itself in nearly all aspects of Iraqi governance.
Since the withdrawal of US forces in 2011, Iran has consolidated itself not only in Iraq, but in Lebanon, where Hezbollah plays a dominant role.
In Syria, Tehran’s war against Isis allowed its proxy forces to establish footholds.
Following the violence in Iraq, Iran closed the Mehran border crossing on Thursday night for security reasons, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported, citing a local border official.