Iraqi MPs to hold emergency session after Basra burns

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Popular protests in the Iraqi city of Basra intensified Thursday amid intense political efforts, accompanied by strong warnings launched by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who said the government and parliament have three days to find "radical solutions" to the country's crisis or face "earthshaking" results.

The Iranian consulate's building was not the first to be set on fire.

Since then at least 12 demonstrators have died in the city of 2 million, mostly in clashes with security forces, as demonstrators torched government buildings and the offices of political parties, whose leaders are all vying to form Iraq's ruling coalition.

Iran is a key power broker in Iraq and numerous militias and political parties whose offices were torched Thursday are known to be close to the Islamic republic.

Residents of Basra and other cities in Iraq's oil-rich southern Shia heartland have been protesting since July over endemic corruption, soaring joblessness and poor public services.

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The government accused "saboteurs" among the protesters of vandalizing public property, while protesters accuse security forces of using live ammunition to disperse peaceful demonstrations.

Basra's protests, which began in early July, erupted again over the past week after tens of cases of poisoning from contaminated water.

Thousands of demonstrators rallied outside the building while hundreds went inside the consulate and set it ablaze, the photographer said.

Iraq's foreign ministry called the attack against the consulate "an unacceptable act undermining the interests of Iraq and its worldwide relations".

On Wednesday, Army Commander Jamil al-Shammari blamed "unidentified gunmen" for the recent protester deaths in Basra.

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Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the ultimate authority for devout members of Iraq's Shi'ite majority who normally holds himself above day-to-day politics, placed blame for the unrest with political leaders and said a new government should be formed, "different from its predecessors".

Incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi convened an emergency cabinet meeting on Tuesday to discuss the unrest and ordered the Interior Ministry to conduct an immediate investigation into the protest.

AFP journalists also reported that the nearby governor's residence was alight, while witnesses and sources said fires were raging at the local offices of several political organisations.

The newly elected parliament held its first session this week since the national elections in May.

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