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Iranian consulate torched in Basra

An Iraqi protester gestures outside the burning Iranian consulate in Basra. (AFP)

Basra/Erbil, Iran: Basra airport was targeted by rocket fire on Saturday after a night of protests over perceived misrule by Iraq's political elite during which demonstrators torched the Iranian consulate and briefly took oilfield workers hostage.

Iraqi security sources said three Katyusha rockets fired by unknown assailants had hit the perimeter of the airport, although no damage or casualties had been reported. The US consulate is adjacent to Basra's airport.

An official at the Iraqi airport said there was no disruption to operations, and flights were taking off and landing as normal.

The attack came shortly after a citywide curfew was lifted and hours after the reopening of Iraq's main seaport of Umm Qasr where protesters had blocked the port's entrance, forcing a halt to all operations.

Basra, Iraq's second biggest city, has been roiled by five days of deadly demonstrations, in which government buildings have been ransacked and set alight by protesters angry over political corruption.

Protests first erupted in July over poor government services, but intensified this week.

On Friday, protesters broke into the Iranian consulate, shouting condemnation of what many perceive as Iran's sway over Iraq's political affairs, and set it alight. Iran and Iraq both strongly condemned the move, raising fears of possible retribution.

Another group of protesters entered a water treatment facility linked to the West Qurna 2 oilfield, held two Iraqi employees hostage for about an hour before leaving peacefully. Production was not disrupted, a manager at the oilfield said.

Parliament convened an emergency session to discuss the escalating crisis in Basra on Saturday afternoon, when Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned against the politicisation of the crisis.

"Politics should be separated from security and services," he said, warning that the situation could descend into armed conflict. At a cabinet meeting earlier on Saturday, ministers agreed to send a delegation to Basra, and Abadi said he had ordered an investigation into the security forces "for not fulfiling their duties" in protecting government buildings and the Iranian consulate. 

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