TEHRAN (Press Shia Agency) – Two protesters were killed Sunday in clashes with Iraqi security forces in the town of Samawa, a police official said, amid growing anger in southern cities over poor public services and widespread corruption.
The unrest is piling pressure on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who hopes to serve a second term once politicians form a new government following a May 12 parliamentary election tainted by allegations of fraud.
“Hundreds of people tried to storm a courthouse. Shots were fired toward us. It was not clear who was shooting. We had no choice but to open fire,” the police official in Samawa said, Reuters reported.
Earlier, police in oil hub Basra wounded 48 people when they fired into the air to disperse a crowd of hundreds that tried to storm a government building and demonstrated near an oil field.
Some 28 members of the security forces were also wounded, according to Maj. Gen. Thamir al-Hussaini, commander of the Interior Ministry’s Rapid Response Forces.
In a town near the southern city of Amara, police shot into the air to disperse protesters after demonstrators set fire to the municipality building. Thirteen protesters and seven policemen were wounded in the clashes.
Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has expressed solidarity with protesters, saying they faced an “extreme lack of public services.”
Earlier Sunday, Jordan’s state airline said it had suspended four weekly flights to Iraq’s holy city of Najaf due to the “security situation at its airport.”
Flydubai followed suit. Air traffic was temporarily suspended Friday when protesters stormed Najaf’s international airport. Flights from Iran to Najaf will be diverted to Baghdad, Iranian state television reported.
Abadi has said his caretaker government will release funds to Basra for water, electricity and health services but major relief is unlikely to come soon for the city. Iraq needs to generate billions of dollars to rebuild after its three-year war with Daesh.
Demonstrators demanding jobs and better government services have cut off access to the southern Umm Qasr commodities port.
Abadi, who also serves as commander in chief of Iraq’s armed forces, issued a nationwide order Sunday placing security forces on high alert in the southern provinces, aiming to stem the burgeoning protests.