Smoke billows from burning tires during a demonstration in the southern city of Basra on Sunday. Hussein Faleh/AFP
Thirteen anti-government protesters were killed Sunday by Iraqi security forces in one of the "worst” days of clashes in the country’s south, as protests swept through the oil-rich area, officials said. Demonstrators outraged by rampant government corruption and poor services burned tires and blocked main road arteries.
Seven protesters were killed in the southern province of Basra, near the Umm Qasr port, when Iraqi authorities used live fire and tear gas to disperse them, said security and hospital officials, who requested anonymity in line with regulations.
One security official in Basra said it was "one of the worst” days since the start of the protest movement. At least 150 protesters were wounded in clashes across southern Iraq.
Four protesters were killed in Nassiriya province, and one killed in both Najaf, the seat of Iraq’s Shiite religious authority, and Diwanieh provinces.
Iraqi security forces are seen on military vehicles during ongoing anti-government protests in Basra, Iraq. Reuters
Earlier in Basra, which accounts for nearly 85% of the country’s crude oil production, protesters burned tires in the city center cutting main roads. Nearly 90% of Iraq’s state revenue is derived from oil exports, but there is no indication that the protest movement has impacted production.
Protesters had cut roads leading to Umm Qasr, the country’s main commodities port, halting all trade activity. Security forces cleared the area of protesters on Thursday.
At least 342 people have died since demonstrations began Oct. 1, when thousands of Iraqis, mostly youth, took to the streets to decry corruption and poor services.
Protesters step on a military vehicle of Iraqi security forces after burning it in Basra, Iraq, on Sunday. Reuters
The protesters had gathered to demand security forces open roads around the port town blocked by government forces in an attempt to prevent protesters from reaching the port's entrance.
On Friday, Iraqi security forces dispersed by force protesters who had been blocking the entrance to the port and reopened it, port officials said.
Umm Qasr is Iraq's largest commodities port and it receives imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar shipments that feed a country largely dependent on imported food.
Protesters shout slogans during ongoing anti-government protests in Basra, Iraq, on Sunday. Essam Al Sudani/Reuters
Protesters are demanding the overthrow of a political class seen as corrupt and serving foreign powers while many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, healthcare or education.
The unrest has shattered the relative calm that followed the defeat of Daesh in 2017.
Medical authorities evacuated infants and children from a hospital in central Nassiriya overnight after tear gas spread inside hospital courtyards, two hospital sources said.
A protester places a tire in the fire during ongoing anti-government protests in Basra, Iraq, on Sunday. Reuters
Protests continued in Nassiriya on Sunday, with some government offices set on fire, sources said.
Elsewhere in southern Iraq, hundreds of protesters burned tyres and blocked some roads on Sunday in Basra, preventing government employees from reaching offices, police said.Iraqi security forces also wounded at least 24 people in the Shi’ite holy city of Kerbala overnight after opening fire on demonstrators to prevent them from reaching the local government headquarters, medical and security sources said.
Security forces used live fire against protesters near Shuhada Bridge in central Baghdad. Gunfire was used against demonstrators in Basra, the main source of Iraq's oil wealth, who had staged a days-long sit-in.
Separately, a Katyusha rocket landed near the fortified Green Zone, Iraq’s seat of government, police officials said. There were no casualties from the incident. Last week two rockets landed in Tigris river and a stadium, both near the Green Zone.
Three Katyusha rockets fell inside the capital's heavily fortified Green Zone which houses government buildings and foreign missions, police sources told the media.
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