BAGHDAD: Dozens of angry demonstrators on Wednesday attacked security forces deployed near the local government building in central Basra where eight people were shot dead in clashes the night before.
The protesters tried to set the building on fire for the second time in 24 hours after a night of violence that also wounded dozens, including several members of the security services, witnesses and local officials told Arab News.
Iraqi security forces have been on high alert for days after local tribes threatened to escalate the situation. More troops have been sent from nearby provinces to reinforce those deployed in Basra.
Iraqi officials and international envoys in Iraq called for calm and an end to the use of excessive force against the demonstrators.
Protests have swept through the towns and suburbs of Basra for the last three months over the lack of basic services, unemployment and poverty.
On Monday night, the Iraqi security forces opened fire and used tear gas to prevent demonstrators from storming the government buildings and burning them with Molotov cocktails. One demonstrator died of his wounds while another was severely injured.
On Tuesday evening, a group of protesters attacked the troops with Molotov cocktails and set the local government building on fire.
Before midnight, the local authorities imposed a curfew. At least eight protesters were shot dead and 67 wounded, including 47 troops, medics and police sources said.
The clashes were the fiercest since June 18, when a protester attacked a local police assembly with a grenade that killed one officer and wounded eight.
“We had no intention to adopt violence or attack the security forces but they opened fire at the demonstrators so the demonstrators responded by attacking them with Molotov cocktails,” Kadhim Sahlani, one of the demonstration organizers, told Arab News.
“We did not burn the local government building. We have no interests to do so, but as the security forces suppressed the demonstrators with tear gas and live bullets, the demonstrators have challenged them and tried to enter the building for the second time and burn it.”
Witnesses told Arab News that on Wednesday the demonstrators raided a municipality building near the local government building and set it on fire. Five demonstrators were wounded as security forces fired in to the air and use tear gas to disperse the protesters, police said.
Basra hosts Iraq’s biggest oil fields and the revenues of its crude exports represents the backbone of Iraq’s economy.
The unrest in Basra comes at a time of increased political polarization in Baghdad as rival pro and anti-Iran factions fight for control of parliament.
The deterioration in security in the south is in the interest of a number of local and regional parties, including Iran and its allies in Iraq, observers say.
“We believe that what is going on in Basra is not away from the ongoing political struggle between the Shiite parties,” Ahmed Al-Hassani, an independent analyst told Arab News.
“The Iranian backed forces try to tell their rivals that no new government will be formed without them.”