Baghdad sends police reinforcements to Basra following unrest

Baghdad sends police reinforcements to Basra following unrest
At least 15 protesters have died since taking to the streets over endemic corruption and poor public services in the oil-rich southern province.
2 min read
09 September, 2018
Iraqi protester outside burned-down local government office [Getty]
Calm has returned to Basra on Sunday after a week of protests left at least 15 dead in the southern oil-rich region.

Troops sent from Baghdad have reinforced police, and government offices and markets reopened after a quiet night. Municipality workers were also seen cleaning up the streets from debris.

Since Tuesday thousands of demonstrators took to the streets after 30,000 were hospitalised for drinking contaminated tap water. They also criticised the government's handling of electricity shortages and soaring unemployment. 

Protesters attacked government offices, political party headquarters and the Iranian consulate. Many blame their woes on neighbouring Iran's outsized influence on Iraqi politics. 

On Saturday, a spokesman for an alliance of powerful Shia militias, many of them backed by Iran, vowed to respond against "those who are carrying out acts of arson and sabotage". The local commander, known as Abu Yasser al-Jaafari, said the lack of response thus far should not be taken as a sign of weakness.

Hours later, masked government troops in combat fatigues deployed in the city, setting up checkpoints and riding through the city centre in black pickup trucks with heavy weapons mounted in the back. Security forces in Humvees deployed at intersections.

Naqeeb al-Luaibi, a local activist, said protest organisers have decided to suspend the demonstrations after receiving death threats from Iran-backed militias. The militias accuse them of colluding with the US, which has long worked to curb Iranian influence in Iraq, allegations denied by the activists.

"We'll suspend protests now to spare blood and we'll return with a new approach," he said. "We will not give up until our demands are met."

Iraq is still without a new government nearly four months after national elections in which no party won a majority. 

Two of Iraq's main parliamentary groups on Saturday called on Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to resign, a severe blow to the prime minister's ability to hang on to his post. Abadi, part of the pro-US bloc, and Basra's governor have traded blame for the crisis.  

Basra is Iraq's second-largest province and home to about 70 percent of the country's proven oil reserves. But years of endemic corruption and a financial crisis fuelled by diminished oil revenues and the expensive war against the Islamic State group have been costly for the region. 
Agencies contributed to this report.

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