ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Despite measures by the Iraqi government, including shutting down all social media and most internet services, protests in southern Iraq continued for the sixth day.
Demonstrators demanded jobs and radically improved public services, while they denounced Iran’s influence in their region.
The protests, led by local tribal leaders, began in Basra and then spread to five other southern provinces: Najaf, Karbala, Maysan, Babil, and Dhi Qar.
On Saturday, they entered their sixth consecutive day.
Violent clashes took place between demonstrators and anti-riot police in front of the residence of the Dhi Qar Governor.
The Iraqi government has taken measures to crack down on the demonstrations. It shut down access to social media throughout the country, including the Kurdistan Region, and ordered an internet blackout in most of Iraq.
Baghdad also mobilized security forces to quell the demonstrations, and fatalities ensued.
Two protesters died of their injuries after being attacked by Iraqi forces in the city of Ammara, in Maysan Province. In Najaf, another two protesters were killed by security forces, while seven were wounded.
Some reports suggest that elements within the army are siding with the demonstrators, and it is other forces that are primarily involved in suppressing the unrest. A split within the Iraqi security forces would be very significant.
In the city of Nasriyya (Dhi Qar Governorate), protestors chanted, “Iran, Iran, we don’t want you anymore, Dhi Qar will not shut up anymore!”
In Najaf, thousands of protestors filled the streets, calling for the destruction of the local headquarters of the Dawa Party—the party of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Security forces responded by imposing a curfew, while they cut the supply of electricity.
In Basra, protesters were dispersed as one militia—the Badr Brigade—used live ammunition against them, as they tried to storm the party’s office.
The Badr Brigade is a major element within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Shi’a militias raised after 2014 to fight the Islamic State. Hadi al-Ameri heads the PMF and also leads the Badr Brigade, which was long-standing ties to Iran.
Despite the armed response of the Badr Brigade, protestors in Basra, nonetheless, managed to burn one of its offices there.
More Iraqi troops including an armored division and Counter-Terror forces, were deployed to the city to counter the protests.
Footage is also circulating on social media that shows demonstrators attacking and chasing a vehicle belonging to a delegation from Muqtada al Sadr, the mercurial cleric, who won the May 12 elections (Ameri came in second, just behind him.)
Sadr sent the delegation to try to negotiate with the protestors and restore calm, an informed source told Kurdistan 24. However, the effort failed.
Notably, every major Shi’a leader—Abadi, Ameri, and Sadr—has been rejected by the protestors, who, themselves, represent Iraq’s Shi’a heartland.
Editing by Laurie Mylroie