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Iraqi PM in Basra after Week of Bloody Protests

Iraqi PM in Basra after Week of Bloody Protests

Monday, 10 September, 2018 - 12:15
Iraqi security forces in Basra. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi paid a visit on Monday to the southern city of Basra where bloody anti-government and anti-Iran protests were held last week.

Details of his visit were not disclosed.

Protests first broke out in July in oil-rich Basra province before spreading to other parts of the country, as demonstrators demanded jobs and condemned corruption among Iraqi officials.

Anger in Basra flared on Tuesday over a growing health crisis, after more than 30,000 people were hospitalized by pollution in the city's water supply.

Since then, protesters have flooded the streets, clashing with security forces and torching the provincial headquarters, the Iranian consulate and the offices of armed groups.

Twelve protesters have been killed in the clashes, with rights groups accusing security forces of using excessive force.

Calm returned to the city late Saturday as Abadi's political rivals in Baghdad announced their intention to form Iraq's next government without him.

Abadi has scrambled to defuse the anger.

In July, authorities had already pledged a multi-billion dollar emergency plan to revive infrastructure and services in southern Iraq following the first wave of protests.

On Saturday, his government announced it would allocate an unspecified amount of extra funds for Basra.

But demonstrators were unimpressed, saying the billions of dollars pledged in July have failed to materialize.

Naqeeb al-Luaibi, a local activist, said protest organizers 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, reported The Associated Press.

"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 parliamentary elections in which no party won a majority. Rival parliamentary blocs — one seen as friendlier to the US and the other closely allied with Iran — each claim to have assembled a governing coalition.

Abadi 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 of 153.1 billion barrels. It is located on the Persian Gulf bordering Kuwait and Iran, and is Iraq's only hub for oil exports.

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