Protesters in Iraqi Cities Demand Better Services, Jobs

Iraqi police have fired into the air as hundreds of protesters attempted to storm the main provincial government building in Basra city during a sixth day of protests demanding better public services and jobs.

Police say several people were injured by water cannon and tear gas in the southern oil-rich province of Basra, as authorities put security forces on high alert and blocked the Internet in the country’s heartland, ABC reported.

Two protesters were killed in clashes with Iraqi security forces in the town of Samawa.

“Hundreds of people tried to storm a courthouse. Shots were fired toward us,” one police official said. “It was not clear who was shooting. We had no choice but to open fire.”

The protests come at a sensitive time as Iraq awaits the final results of a partial recount of the ballots from May’s national elections before a new government can be formed.

The elections, the fourth since the US-led invasion that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein, saw the lowest turnout in 15 years and were marred with allegations of fraud and irregularities.

Thousands of protesters gathered outside the local government building and closed the roads leading to major oil fields north and west of Basra city, activist Laith Hussein said by phone.

Security forces guarding the local government building opened fire, causing some protesters to disperse, he added.

  Border Crossings Closed

Elsewhere in Basra, protesters forced authorities to close the vital Um Qasr port on the Persian Gulf and planned to march to the border crossings with Kuwait and Iran, Hussein said.

The two main border crossings—Safwan with Kuwait and Shalamcheh with Iran—have been closed to both passengers and goods, a senior official with the Border Crossings Directorate said. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations.

He could not confirm if there were fatalities from either incident. Health and police officials were not immediately available for comment.

Around noon on Sunday, Basra anti-riot police fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse the protesters, said Sadiq Saleh, one of the demonstrators.

“I will not leave my place here until I get all my rights,” said the 35-year-old who has been out of work for the past three years. “The government lies to us, they always give us such promises and we get nothing.”

  Protests in Baghdad

There were also similar protests on Saturday in Baghdad. Hundreds poured into Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and the eastern district of Sadr City.

Some protesters set tires on fire and tried to break into the Badr Organization’s office in Sadr City, prompting guards to open fire. No casualties were reported.

Citing security concerns, Kuwait Airways, the Royal Jordanian and Iran’s Aviation Authority suspended their flights to Iraq’s second busiest airport in Najaf.

The United Arab Emirates’ FlyDubai canceled Saturday’s flights to Najaf, saying it will suspend them until July 22. Flights to other Iraqi airports have not been affected.

In a bid to contain the protests, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi convened a six-minister committee headed by the oil minister, Jabar Ali al-Luaibi.

The committee promised jobs for those living in the areas around the oil fields and announced allocations for urgent projects, mainly for water provision.

Add new comment

Read our comment policy before posting your viewpoints