Published: Wed, July 18, 2018
Worldwide | By Jermaine Blake

Protests in Southern Iraq Demand Better Services, Jobs

Protests in Southern Iraq Demand Better Services, Jobs

Almost 200 Iraqi people have staged a protest at the main entrance to Iraq's Siba natural gas field following a week of unrest in the country's southern cities over poor public services and alleged corruption, police and energy sources say. Security forces deployed to the airport shot and killed two more demonstrators, bringing the total to at least three protesters killed over the first week. Basra oil officials have said the protests have not impacted crude production. Unidentified calls were also posted on social media for massive demonstrations to take place on Saturday in Baghdad. "Baghdad is free!" and "The people want to overthrow the regime".

Earlier, Abadi, who also serves as commander-in-chief of Iraq's armed forces, had issued a nationwide order placing security forces on high alert in the southern provinces in response to the protests.

Renewed clashes between security forces and protesters in Basra city left 50 people injured near the governor s headquarters, the majority protesters, a separate medical source said. There were also widespread reports of the internet being shut down or throttled across parts of the country.

Police also fired tear gas at stone-throwing demonstrators who tried to push their way into the Zubeir oilfield south of the city, the AFP reporter said. The clashes, including hand-to-hand combat, erupted when the demonstrators gathered outside the governor's office and pelted security forces with stones.

The crumbling oil hub of Basra and others parts of the Shi'ite heartland south have always been neglected, first by Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein and then Shi'ite-led governments after him.

On Saturday night, protesters attacked and set fire to branches of Prime Minister Haider al Abadi's Islamic Dawa Party, the National Wisdom movement led by Ammar al Hakim, the Iranian-backed Al Badr Organisation and the Shia Supreme Islamic Council Party in Maysan.

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

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Karbalai urged the "federal and local government to deal seriously with the demands of citizens", while also calling on demonstrators to refrain from violence.

Transportation Minister Kadhim Finjan al-Hamai was at the Najaf airport to announce the reopening on the Iraqi state TV as an Iraqi Airways plane landed behind him.

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.

In a rare move, protesters stormed the worldwide airport in Najaf, a holy Shi'ite city, temporarily halting air traffic.

The United Arab Emirates' FlyDubai cancelled Saturday's flights to Najaf, saying it will suspend them until July 22. Flights to other Iraqi airports have not been affected. The security forces fired into the air to disperse the crowd.

Protesters mocked Mr. Abadi's offering, gathering outside a hotel in Basra where he was believed to be meeting with tribal leaders on Friday, chanting "Come out, you coward!"

Officially, 10.8 percent of Iraqis are jobless, while youth unemployment is twice as high in a country where 60 percent of the population are aged under 24.

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