WATCH: Basra police disperse crowd with tear gas as protests intensify

Videos purported to have been captured at the scene of a protest on Friday in the southern Iraqi city of Basra showed people fleeing the scene as the security forces began throwing tear gas canisters into the gathered crowd.
author_image Kosar Nawzad

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Videos on Iraqi social media purported to have been captured at the scene of a protest in the southern city of Basra on Friday showed people fleeing the scene as security forces began throwing tear gas canisters into a crowd.

After Friday prayers, dozens of males and females of all ages amassed in front of the Provincial Council Building of Basra, calling out anti-corruption chants in unison. 

The building is the temporary home of the council which replaced the previous one which was burned down in September during demonstrations that spread across much of central and southern Iraq, against government corruption, inadequate services, and a low standard of living.  

The demonstration came during an only partially-attended council session in which members were expected to elect a new provincial governor.

Locals have alleged that incumbent governor Assad al-Aidani is corrupt and have called for his resignation in earlier demonstrations. On Friday, protesters said that they did not approve of the current candidate favored by the council.

"From 2003 to this day" Basra’s money has "gone to unclean hands and into the pockets of the corrupt," said one protester, adding "Basra needs a governor who is practical, [politically] independent, honest," and who receives power from the public.

The nominee is believed to be a member of the al-Hikma (Wisdom) movement, led by cleric Ammar al-Hakim.

Hours into the demonstrations, videos posted on social media showed at least eight police vehicles filled with security forces drive to the protest. This was also reported in local media, some of which claimed that protesters also threw rocks at riot police.

Later, crowds scrambled to disperse as police forces began unloading tear gas canisters into the crowd. Early reports indicate a number of injuries or illness from overexposure to the chemicals in the smoke.

As council members began leaving the building, security forces guarding them fired live rounds into the air as a warning to the protesters. Preliminary reports do not indicate any casualties from the gunfire.

Basra's protests appear to be gaining another bout of momentum after a few weeks of relative calm. Residents continue to bitterly exclaim that neither the federal nor local government has made any progress in addressing their concerns, which include the province's chronic issues of poor water quality and crippling unemployment.

Iraq remains high on Transparency International’s list of country levels of corruption, fraud, and mismanagement in state institutions, some of the most significant challenges facing the country since the fall of the former regime.

According to the group’s 2017 Corruption Index, Iraq ranks 166, the tenth most corrupt country out of a total of 176. 

Editing by John J. Catherine