Iraqi security forces sprayed tear gas and fired into the air on Wednesday to try to disperse thousands of protesters in the southern city of Basra, in some of the worst unrest in the region for months.
The deaths of five protesters in clashes with security forces on Tuesday added to anger in the oil hub over poor government services. Like other cities in the long-neglected south, Basra is plagued by electricity outages, unemployment and entrenched corruption.
Security and health sources said that 22 members of the security forces had been injured in Tuesday’s unrest, some by a hand grenade.
On Wednesday frustrations were once again focused on the provincial governorate building, where thousands of people gathered. The crowds were growing as stones were hurled at the building. Some protesters tried to break down concrete barriers around the governorate.
Basra residents say salt seeping into the water supply has made it undrinkable and sent hundreds to hospital. This is proof, they say, that infrastructure has been allowed to collapse in the part of Iraq that produces most of its oil wealth.
Public anger has grown at a time when politicians are struggling to form a new government after an inconclusive parliamentary election in May.
Sadr’s bloc came in first place in the vote, which was tainted by allegations of corruption which forced a recount.
Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has expressed support for the protests. BASRA, Iraq (Reuters)