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Dozens of demonstrators stormed the Iranian consulate, in Iraq's southern city of Basra, on Friday, setting fire to the building, a security source said. The Iranian employees had withdrawn from the building, to safe places, before the attack, the source said, on condition of anonymity.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry later strongly regretted protesters' attack on the Iranian consulate, saying, "It is an unacceptable development and is not in line with national hospitality for (diplomatic) missions," according to a statement by the ministry's spokesman, Ahmed Mahjoub.

"Targeting the diplomatic mission harms the interests of Iraq and its relations with other countries, and does not relate to the slogans of demonstrations and their demand for services and water," Mahjoub said. The demonstrators headed towards the U.S. consulate, but the attempt was unsuccessful because of upgraded security measures, the source said.

Protesters also attacked the headquarters of Iran-backed Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq militant group, and set fire to its building, in Bareiha area, in central Basra, incurring heavy gunfire from the group's fighters, the source said. Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, or League of People of Righteousness, is part of the Hashd Shaabi brigades. The group was allegedly funded, trained and armed by Iran's Quds Force, during the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and later became allied to the Shiite-led government.

Local witnesses said, the demonstrators set fire to the gate of the Presidential palace complex, at the edge of the city, which includes houses of local top officials and some bases of paramilitary Hashd Shaabi brigades.

Meanwhile, Qais al-Khaz'ali, head of Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq group, threatened to "intervene strongly" if "things reach to the level that threats the existence of the state." "Burning the headquarters of Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq and some parties in Basra is politically motivated, and has relation with the power struggle in Iraq," Khaz'ali said.

The demonstrations are part of days-long protests in the southern oil-hub province of Basra, during which hundreds of angry demonstrators burned the provincial government buildings, and offices of leading political parties and headquarters of some Shiite militias.

Basra, the province's capital city, which bears the same name, has long witnessed complaints among its two million residents, about the collapsing infrastructure, power cuts and corruption. Water supply in the province is also widely criticised for high salinity, with thousands of residents having been hospitalised.


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