|Earlier protests in the towns of Kut and Sulaimaniyah claimed the lives of at least three people [Reuters]|
Violent protests have taken place at various locations in Iraq, with anti-government protesters rallying against corruption, poor basic services and high unemployment.
In Basra, the country’s second largest city, about 1,000 people rallied on Friday, demanding better service delivery from the government, jobs and improved pensions.
They called for the provincial governor to resign, and blocked a bridge for an hour. Protesters shouted slogans saying that while Friday’s protests would be peaceful, ones held in the future may not be.
“We’re living in miserable conditions, no electricity, dirty, muddy streets. We have to make changes. We should not be silent,” said Qais Jabbar, one of the protesters.
“I have filed my papers with the provincial council but have gotten no job until now,” said Hussein Abdel, an unemployed 25-year-old. “There is corruption in Basra – they have to start taking care of this city and must stop making fake promises.”
Protests in Kurdish region
Protests were also held in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, which generally enjoys more economic prosperity than other parts of the country.
A Kurdish regional opposition party’s offices were attacked by looters, officials said on Friday.
Seven offices of the Goran party in the northern Kurdish provinces of Arbil and Dohuk were attacked, in what officials say was a response to an attack on the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) offices in Sulaimaniyah a day earlier. Two people were killed in that protest, after security forces opened fire on demonstrators.
Iraqi and Kurdish leaders have pledged to bring the perpetrators of the violence to justice. They have also attempted to head off the protests by slashing the salaries of ministers and MPs and diverting cash earmarked for the purchase of fighter jets to buy food for the needy.
On Thursday, one person was killed during protests in the southern city of Kut. Forty-seven others were injured in the protests, prompting New York-based Human Rights Watch to call for an “independent and transparent investigation”.
Protests were also held on Friday in the southern city of Nasiriyah and elsewhere in the country.
Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, said on Thursday that peaceful protests were the right of all Iraqis, but warned that those inciting violence would be brought to justice.
“I welcome those who demonstrate peacefully for their legitimate rights, but I am not in favour of those who exploit those claims to incite riots,” he told reporters in Baghdad.