Protesters set a tire on fire in front of the provincial council building during protests demanding better public services and jobs, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in Basra, 340 miles (550 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq. Iraqi security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition on hundreds of protesters. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)

Iraqi PM orders probe into bloody Basra protests

September 05, 2018 - 1:41 am

BASRA, Iraq (AP) — Iraq's prime minister has ordered an investigation into violent protests in the southern city of Basra that killed and wounded several civilians and security forces.

Iraq's oil-rich city of Basra and other cities in the southern Shiite heartland have been brewing since July over endemic corruption, soaring joblessness and poor public services. The protests have often turned violent, with protesters damaging and burning government offices and attacking security forces with stones and Molotov cocktails.

The situation exacerbated on Tuesday after a funeral procession for a 26-year old protester killed the day before. The security forces guarding the provincial council building fired tear gas and live ammunition on stone-throwing protesters.

At least three protesters were killed and four others wounded during the confrontations, as well as two policemen were killed and seven others wounded.

In his weekly press conference Tuesday, Haider al-Abadi expressed regret for the casualties among civilians and security forces, accusing "those who pour oil on the fire" of endangering the city.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the U.N. special representative to Iraq, Jan Kubis, expressed "grave concern" over events in Basra.

Kubis called for calm and urged authorities "to avoid using disproportionate, lethal force against the demonstrators, provide the necessary protection for the people of Basra, ensure human rights while protecting law and order, and investigate and hold accountable those responsible for the outbreak of the violence."

He also called on the government in Baghdad "to do its utmost to respond to the people's rightful demands of clean water and electricity supplies as a matter of urgency."

Water shortages along with a lingering electricity crisis in the oil-rich region have contributed to protesters' rage, fueling the demonstrations.

Iraq's government has scrambled to meet the growing demands for public services and jobs, but has been hindered by years of endemic corruption and a financial crisis fueled by diminished oil revenues and the costly war against the Islamic State group.