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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Renewed protests in south Iraq lead to clashes and one dead  

More than a dozen demonstrators have died since protests started over a month ago

Protesters rise national flags while chanting slogans demanding better public services and jobs during a protest in front of the provincial council building in Basra, Iraq. AP
Protesters rise national flags while chanting slogans demanding better public services and jobs during a protest in front of the provincial council building in Basra, Iraq. AP

One demonstrator was killed on Wednesday when Iraqi security forces fired shots to disperse thousands of frustrated protesters.

Clashes broke out leaving hundreds injured when civilians in the southern oil hub of Basra gathered to demand basic public services in the latest in a string of demonstrations.

“The protests in Al Hwair district in northern Basra escalated rapidly after security forces used live ammunition to disperse protesters. More than 100 people were injured and one man was shot in the head, while many others were randomly arrested,” Basra resident Ahmed Ali told The National.

Security forces called for peaceful protests but demonstrators destroyed vehicles and personal belongings, Mr Ali said.

The clashes, explained Mr Ali, were partly triggered by the death of one of the protesters who was allegedly tortured in police custody.

"His family insist that he was killed under torture by the security force who take direct orders from Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi," Mohammed Al Tai, a former member of parliament for Basra, told The National.

"We believe that the international community should intervene in providing support for the people of Basra instead of watching and issuing statements," he said.

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Southern Iraqis have been taking to the streets for over a month now to vent their anger over what they believe is a corrupt political elite and its failure to provide clean water, reliable power supply and jobs. The unrest spread northward, reaching Baghdad.

Iraq is ranked 169 of 180 countries for corrupt states in Transparency International’s corruption perception index, with the lowest being the most corrupt.

Lack of transparency and unreliable governance has been at the heart of Iraq’s woes, made worse by the effects of the three-year war against ISIS.

Politicians in Basra argue that the only solution to the crisis is to establish a federal province, one that is independent from Baghdad's central government.

"Many leaders, activists including myself, agree that the only solution for change is to transform the city of Basra to a region, in accordance to the constitution's paragraph 119," Mr Al Tai said. "This means that Basra would become a self-governed city that is connected to the central government."

In the first two week of the protests more than a dozen demonstrators were killed, more than 600 injured and an additional 600 arrested, according to the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights.

Protesters say they have given up hope that the country’s local and central government can change the country's dire situation.

Tensions over basic services come at a time when Iraqi political blocs are attempting to form a coalition government after a May 12 parliamentary election tainted by allegations of fraud.

“We want to be treated like human beings and not animals, we need jobs, clean water, electricity and we will not stop until we get them,” Samir Abul Karim, 30, an unemployed citizen living in Basra told The National.

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