One protestor killed, 70 injured including security forces in Basra
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — One protestor was killed in Iraq’s southern province of Basra and some 70 more injured following a renewal of protests on Wednesday. The protestors again tried to set the provincial council building on fire.
Hundreds hit the streets in Basra’s al-Zubair district in front of the provincial council building to denounce the use of excess force against protesters.
"The sacking of the commander of Basra Operations Command could happen any moment," Saad al-Hadithi, Haider al-Abadi’s media officer stated.
He pointed out that security breaches may occur if military heads are sacked.
"The commander in chief of armed forces needs to reach precise and final evaluations to ensure there are no hasty decisions," added al-Hadithi.
Umm Qasr seaport also was closed. It is a strategic trading port for Iraq.
A video obtained by Rudaw shows people setting tires on fire to protest the actions of the security forces. This led the security forces to use tear gas and live ammunition on the protests, injuring dozens.
“The injury toll of the protests in Basra province has increased to 70 individuals,” Sayf al-Badr, spokesperson for Iraq’s Ministry of Health, said in a statement on Wednesday. Thirty-seven are civilians, while the other 33 were security members.
Protesting the deaths of five protestors on Tuesday, they again set a building belonging to the provincial council on fire on Wednesday.
“Protestors are trying to infiltrate into the provincial building at the center of Basra to burn it again,” a source told Baghdad Today. The protestors had already set the garden of the building on fire. A source told Baghdad Today that one protestor was killed due to the fire of security forces.
Col. Gen. Jameel al-Shamari, the commander of Basra Operations Command, who had been put under siege by protestors, accused “gangs” of targeting and shooting protestors.
“Security forces had prepared water, flowers and Iraqi flags to distribute for protestors. But we were surprised to see some of them throwing grenades, burning military vehicles and the provincial council building, and assaulting citizens,” Shammari told journalists in a press conference on Wednesday.
“Then later unknown [people] driving a white car assassinated some protestors, pushing us to impose a curfew,” added Shammari, saying some groups are utilizing “gangs” to kill people.
Politicians respond to Basra unrest
Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sayirun parliamentary bloc on Wednesday denounced violence against protestors, calling the head of the Basra Operations Command to be ousted.
“The federal and local governments have to ensure the lives of protestors and prevent the usage of force that will open the doors of legitimacy for black sedition,” Hassan al-Aaqouli, the head of the parliamentary bloc, told reporters in a press conference.
The Sunni National Axis Alliance and the head of the State of Law Coalition Nouri al-Maliki both denounced the violence against protestors, calling for their demands to be fulfilled.
“My heart is wrenching from pain, and I am deeply saddened hearing and following what is happening in the dear Basra province, and what is happening to dear people from thirst, panic, fear, plus acute shortages in public services,” Maliki, head of the State of Law Coalition, stated on Wednesday.
Maliki called on everyone to “contain the crisis” and to be dealt with “great responsibility for the sake of Basra.”
“From here, I deem it my duty to demand the government, the ministers of electricity, water resources, municipalities and finance to speed up responding to the demands of protestors in a concrete manner, and to pay the financial entitlements owed by the government to Basra, and to make use of the emergency funds if need be,” added al-Maliki, claiming that wasn’t difficult for the government.
Maliki called for not using force, to open “the door of dialogue” with the protestors, and for investigations.
AP reported on Wednesday that the Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi had ordered the opening of investigations into the killings of protestors on Tuesday.
Hikma leader, Ammar al-Hakim who is in a political alliance with Abadi, called for "healing."
"We follow the unfortunate events in the Basra province with great worry currently, and we urge the need to contain it in an urgent manner, while we warn that its scope will widen in a way as to endanger the security and stability the capital of the good Iraq.
He stressed that Hikma condemned the use of weapons against protestors. He asked that peaceful protestors be distinguished from "infiltrators."
"We urge religious, official, intellectuals, academia and the media to work on healing the rift and to preserve national unity..." added Hakim.
He said the federal government should urgently provide relief to Basra.
"In this current and critical juncture, we call on political forces and individuals to place Iraq's interests, and the security and interests of our people, above all other considerations and to speed forming the government that shoulders providing citizens with services," added Hakim.
The Sunni National Axis Alliance also condemned the death of protestors, calling for opening investigations.
“The National Axis on its part rejects the usage of excessive force against peaceful protestors, and the death and injuries call for urgent investigation on the part of the central government,” said the National Axis Alliance on Wednesday.
Basra is predominately Shiite Arab and one of the richest provinces in Iraq because of its port and tremendous oil and gas reserves.
“The National Axis will support the people of Basra in its legitimate demands, and will be their backer in pressuring the government to speed up adopting a national roadmap contributing to save beloved Basra from its tragic condition,” added the alliance.
Basra's governor asked for politics to be put to the side amid the chaos.
"Even if all the buildings of the province are burnt, it isn't worth one blood drop of protestors in Basra province," Asaad al-Idany told Baghdad Today.
Idany pleaded for the protection of the "sons of Basra" and for clean water.
"To hell with politics," added the governor.
Updated at 11:25 p.m.
Photos: Haidar Mohammed Ali | AFP