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BASRA, Iraq, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - About 200 protesters gathered at the main entrance to Iraq's Siba natural gas field on Monday, police sources said, following more than a week of protest over poor services sweeping southern cities.

Growing anger has put a spotlight on the performance of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is seeking a second term after a May 12 parliamentary election which reflected widespread discontent over hardships and corruption.

The oil hub of Basra and others parts of the Shi'ite heartland south have long been neglected, first by Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein and then Shi'ite-led governments after him.

In a rare show of anger, protesters stormed the international airport in Najaf, a holy Shi'ite city.

"We have demonstrated near the field to press the company to give us jobs. We are living nearby and watching every day hundreds of workers here sitting jobless and can hardly give food to our children," said Salim Khasbawi, who is unemployed.

BASRA, Iraq, July 15, 2018 (New Wires) - Iraqi police fired in the air as hundreds of protesters tried to storm the main provincial government building in Basra, wounding four people on Sunday in the seventh day of unrest that has swept southern cities over poor services, police sources said.

"Some of the protesters tried to storm the building. We prevented them by using water cannons and tear gas," said one of the police sources.

Local officials said the protests have not affected crude production in the oil exporting city of Basra, whose crude shipments account for more than 95 per cent of OPEC producer Iraq's state revenues.

Any disruption could severely impact the country's limping economy and push up global oil prices.

Demonstrators, who are demanding jobs and better government services, have cut off access to the southern Umm Qasr commodities port.

Security forces have battled protesters in Basra and several other cities in the south. The demonstrators have taken the unusual step of attacking buildings belonging to powerful Shi'ite militias, in addition to local government headquarters.

The mounting anger comes at a sensitive time. Iraqi politicians are trying to form a government following a May 12 parliamentary election tainted by allegations of fraud.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is heading a fragile caretaker government until a new one can be formed, has announced that his government would release funds to Basra for water, electricity and health services in the suffocating summer heat.

Abadi, who also serves as commander-in-chief of Iraq's armed forces, had earlier issued a nationwide order placing security forces on high alert in the southern provinces in response to the protests.

Internet access in Iraq has been dramatically reduced.

Abadi's directive aims to stem the burgeoning protests, which spread from Basra to the cities of Amara, Nasiriya and the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf.

Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, had expressed solidarity with protesters, saying they faced an "extreme lack of public services".

Sistani, who has millions of followers, rarely intervenes in politics, but has wide sway over public opinion.

A political bloc led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr won a majority in the poll on an anti-corruption platform which had appeal across Iraq's electorate.

BAGHDAD, July 14, 2018 (News Wires) - Iraq placed its security forces on high alert on Saturday, in response to ongoing protests in the country’s southern provinces over poor government services and corruption.

The nationwide order was issued overnight by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who also serves as the country’s commander in chief of the armed forces, in a directive seen by Reuters.

Reinforcement troops from both the Counter Terrorism Service and the Army’s Ninth Division have already been dispatched to Basra, where demonstrators gathered for the sixth consecutive day, to help protect the province’s oil fields, security sources said.

The directive came in an effort to stem the burgeoning protests, which on Friday spread from oil-city Basra - where residents had blocked access to the nearby commodities port of Umm Qasr - to the cities of Amara, Nasiriya and the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf.

Protests against high unemployment, poor government services and corruption that began in Basra have extended to several other Iraqi cities, including Najaf, Amara, Nasiriya and Baghdad.

Two more protesters were reported on Saturday killed overnight in Amara, the capital of the Maysan province on the border with Iran, bringing to three the number of demonstrators killed since the protests erupted on Sunday in neighbouring Basra.

A small protest also took place after midnight in the northern Baghdad district of Al-Shula amid a heavy deployment of security forces, a security source told AFP.

Iraq's National Security Council urgently convened a meeting on Saturday in the Iraqi capital under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, where it was decided to cut internet access in the city.

The government was concerned that the demonstrations were spreading to other parts of Baghdad, the agency said.

Following Saturday's meeting, the office of Abadi, who visited Basra on Friday, issued a statement accusing "infiltrators" of feeding on "peaceful protests to attack public and private property".

"Our forces will take all the necessary measures to counter those people," the statement said.

Two airport security officials said hundreds of demonstrators had entered Najaf airport's main hall and walked on to the tarmac on Friday.

Witnesses said security forces allowed protesters to enter the main airport building, Reuters news agency reported.

Air traffic resumed later on Friday at Najaf's airport after the protesters withdrew, state television reported.

One of Iraq's top clerics, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, expressed solidarity with protesters, saying they faced an "extreme lack of public services" such as electricity in the suffocating summer heat.

"We can only stand with our dear citizens in their demands as we feel their great suffering," Sistani said through an aide during a Friday sermon heard on live television.

Earlier on Friday, residents took to the streets of the oil-rich southern city of Basra for a fifth straight day and blocked access to the nearby commodities port of Umm Qasr.

The protests, which have included demonstrators setting tyres ablaze to block roads and trying to storm government installations, erupted on Sunday and further gained traction when security forces opened fire at the crowds, killing a protester.

Iraqi politicians face the growing unrest as they try to form a coalition government after a 12 May parliamentary election tainted by allegations of fraud.

A political bloc led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr won a majority in the poll on an anti-corruption platform that has appealed to citizens across Iraq's electorate.

In Amara, protesters occupied the headquarters of the provincial governorate, threw stones at branches of the Dawa party and the powerful Badr Organisation, which has close ties to Iran, and beat up policemen, said a security official.

BAGHDAD, July 14, 2018 (MENA) – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi chaired an urgent meeting of the National Security Council, which was convened to discuss protests that spread in a number of southern provinces against the deterioration of government services.

In a statement broadcast by Alsumaria news channel on Saturday, the council said security forces will take all deterrent measures against those who try to make use of peaceful demonstrations in vandalism.

Protecting citizens and state property is the duty of security forces, who have made sacrifices to liberate the Iraqi lands from elements of Daesh terrorist organization, read the statement.

BAGHDAD, July 14, 2018 (MENA) - A civilian was killed and another wounded in a bomb blast, in the north of Baghdad, an Iraqi police source said on Saturday.

An explosive device that was placed under a car, went off when the car was passing through the outskirts of Taji city, leaving a civilian dead and another injured, Alsumaria news channel reported, quoting the source as saying.

A security force cordoned off the scene and a probe was launched into the accident.

The injured was carried to hospital for treatment.

BASRA, July 13, 2018 (News Wires) - Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi went to Basra on Friday hoping to restore calm in the southern city, which has been gripped by protests over unemployment, his office said.

Abadi flew straight into the city from Brussels where he attended a NATO summit to discuss the Islamic State group and immediately held talks with officials, a statement said.

As Abadi met the governor of the oil-rich province and the head of the head of the power company, Iraq's top Shiite authority voiced support for the protesters, calling Basra one of Iraq's "most miserable areas".

"It is not fair and it is never acceptable that this generous province is one of the most miserable areas in Iraq," Abdel Mehdi al-Karbalai, the representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said at Friday prayers in Karbala.

Giving the weekly sermon, Karbalai said many residents of Basra "are suffering from a lack of public services" and urged the "federal and local government to deal seriously with the demands of citizens and work urgently to do what can be done."

 

 

 

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