UPDATE – Protesters block road to Iraq’s Umm Qasr port


By Amir al-Saadi

BAGHDAD (AA) – One civilian was killed in southern Iraq Friday, the latest casualty in days of protests over high unemployment and a lack of basic services.

Security forces fired on protestors in Maysan province, leaving one dead and 15 others injured.

Protestors attacked and set fire to branches of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s Islamic Dawa Party, the National Wisdom movement led by Ammar al-Hakim, the Iranian-backed Al-Badr Organization and the Shia Supreme Islamic Council Party in Maysan.

They also poured into the streets of Najaf and stormed the airport.

In Nasiriyah, the capital of Dhi Qar governorate, protestors chanted slogans such as "Iran, we don't want you anymore."

Earlier Friday, hundreds of protesters cut the road to the Umm Qasr seaport in Basra province.

Raed al-Jamil, who works at the port, told Anadolu Agency that “hundreds” of protesters had blocked the main road to Umm Qasr, paralyzing activity there.

“We cut the main road [to the seaport] so they might feel what we feel every day,” said Hussein al-Ahmadi, one of the protesters.

“Thousands of Basra’s young people remain unemployed, even though the province is a main center for the production and export of oil.”

Protesters would not reopen the road “until we receive guarantees that our demands will be met”, he said.

Located near Iraq’s border with Kuwait, Umm Qasr is Iraq’s largest seaport in the Persian Gulf.

Tensions have steadily mounted in Basra since Sunday, when a demonstrator was killed by security forces while taking part in protests against high unemployment and chronic power outages.

On Friday morning, al-Abadi paid a visit to Basra, where he promised to address protesters’ grievances.

Prominent Iraqi Shia cleric and politician Muqtada al-Sadr called for security forces not to use force against demonstrators. He also asked protestors to respect public property.

Influential Najaf-based Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani meanwhile expressed support for the protestors.

Sistani’s representative, Abdel Mehdi al-Karbalai, urged the government to respond to the protesters’ demands.

Roughly 80 percent of Iraq’s overall crude oil exports originate from oilfields in Basra province.

For years, Basra residents have complained that foreign nationals, rather than locals, were being employed by the domestic energy sector.

They also complain of frequent power outages amid summer temperatures that often reach as high as 50 degrees Celsius.