Nov. 4 (UPI) -- At least three demonstrators were killed at the Iranian consulate building in Karbala in clashes with police, authorities said.
The activists scaled the walls of the building Sunday, waving the Iraqi flag and demanding that Iran stay out of Iraqi politics. Police first responded with rubber bullets, then tear gas and finally live ammunition. Protesters retaliated with stones and Molotov cocktails and lit fires outside the consulate.
Protesters also spray painted messages on the walls, one of which read, "Karbala is free, Iran out, out!"
Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights director Mustafa Saadoon confirmed Monday three protesters died.
Activists are also angry at the Iraqi government, which has been accused of poor governance, corruption and lack of economic prosperity. They are calling for sweeping changes and an overhaul in Baghdad, which was established after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Iraqi Shia leader Ali al-Sistani said there will be "civil conflict, chaos and destruction" if security forces target protesters. He echoed protesters' claims that the government is being manipulated from overseas, mainly from Iran.
"No person or group, no side with a particular view, no regional or international actor may seize the will of the Iraqi people and impose its will on them," al-Sistani said.
Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over the weekend blamed the United States for spreading insecurity and turmoil in the region.
"I seize this opportunity to tell those who care about Iraq ... to remedy insecurity as their priority," Khamenei said.
Former Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations Feisal Istrabadi warned the situation in Iraq could deteriorate quickly, and said it's "nearly impossible" to stop the protests.
"I am very much afraid that is what's coming next," Istrabadi said.