Violent demonstrations erupt in Basra

Security forces opened fire while the protesters lobbed petrol bombs.
Saturday 22/08/2020
Protesters stand near fires during an anti-government protest outside the provincial council building in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
Protesters stand near fires during an anti-government protest outside the provincial council building in Basra, Iraq. (AP)

BASRA –Protesters in the southern Iraqi city of Basra set fire to parliament’s local office on Friday as security forces fired live rounds in the air to disperse them, security sources said.

The protesters had gathered to demand that Iraq’s parliament sack the provincial governor Asad al-Eidani after two activists were killed and others wounded in three separate attacks this week by unknown gunmen, believed to be from Iran-backed militias.

Security forces opened fire while the protesters lobbed petrol bombs.

At least eight security personnel were injured in the clashes, said Ali al-Bayati, spokesman for the semi-official Independent High Commission for Human Rights.

Angry protesters also burned pictures of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whom they accuse of inciting killings of demonstrators.

The protesters also attacked headquarters of Iran-backed political parties in Iraq, prompting security forces to fire live ammunition to disperse them.

Activist Reham Yacoub, who had led several women’s marches in the past, was killed on Wednesday and three others wounded when gunmen, brandishing assault rifles on the back of a motorcycle, opened fire on their car.

It was the third incident this week in which gunmen targeted an anti-government political activist, after one activist was killed and four others had their car fired upon in a separate incident.

The wave of violence began when activist Tahseen Osama was assassinated last week, prompting street demonstrations lasting three days in which security forces opened live fire on protesters who threw rocks and petrol bombs at the governor’s house and blocked several main roads.

Protesters outside the provincial council building in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
Protesters outside the provincial council building in Basra, Iraq. (AP)

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi sacked the Basra police and national security chiefs on Monday and ordered an investigation into the violence. That calmed protesters until Yacoub’s killing brought them back out on the streets.

Protesters in Basra say Kadhimi’s moves were not enough, decrying inaction by the Iraqi government over the two killings. They carried banners calling for the actvisits’ killers to be held accountable.

“Al-Eidani bears the greatest responsibility” for the deaths of the activists, explained one protester, “because he is the head of the Supreme Security Committee and he is responsible for bringing any party involved in the assassinations to court.”

“Because he did not move a finger, he is complicit in the suppression of protesters by force,” Qassim said.