Iraqi Prime minister sent military commanders to several southern provinces as Iranian consulate in Najaf was set alight on Tuesday night.
At least 16 people have been shot dead by security forces across Iraq as protesters torched the Iranian embassy in the southern city of Najaf.
A curfew was imposed in the city following the incident, which led the Iranian government to demand a “firm response” from the Iraqi government.
A curfew was imposed on the city, while businesses and government offices were closed, state media reported.
The torching of the consulate escalated violence in Iraq after weeks of mass demonstrations that aim to bring down a government seen as endemically corrupt and backed by Tehran.
It was the strongest expression yet of the anti-Iranian sentiment of Iraqi demonstrators, who have taken to the streets for weeks in Baghdad and the Shia majority south.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi implicitly criticised the Iraqi government’s failure to prevent the incident.
“The Iraqi government is responsible to secure safety of diplomatic missions and diplomats in Iraq…Tehran strongly condemns the attack and demands the Iraqi government’s firm response to the aggressors,” State TV quoted Mousavi as saying on Thursday.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA said staff at the consulate, who had evacuated shortly before demonstrators broke in, were “safe and unharmed”.
The Iraqi government has condemned the attack.
Officials in Iraq’s southern Nasiriyah also announced they were imposing a city-wide curfew on Thursday after a number of people were shot dead in a crackdown on anti-government rallies.
Security forces opened fire on protesters who had gathered on a bridge in the city before dawn, medical sources said.
Sixteen were killed and dozens more were wounded in the incident, according to medical sources speaking to Reuters, while the AFP news agency put the death toll at 13.
Security forces were deployed around the edges of the city, searching all cars and people trying to enter, a correspondent for AFP said.
Military commanders dispatched
Iraq’s embattled Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi has dispatched military commanders to several provinces swept up by the protests in a bid to “restore order”.
Authorities said “crisis cells” in the provinces would be led by provincial governors but would include military leaders who would take charge of local security and military forces.
The protests, which began in Baghdad on 1 October and have spread through southern cities, are the most complex challenge facing the Shia-dominated ruling class that has controlled state institutions and patronage networks since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled longtime Sunni ruler Saddam Hussein.
Protesters are mostly unemployed youths who demand the departure of Iraq’s entire political elite.
Security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades against mostly unarmed protesters. Some demonstrators have lobbed petrol bombs, bricks and fired slingshots at police.
The violence has killed more than 355 people, according to police and medics.