At least two people have died in Iraq’s oil-rich province of Basra as protesters targeted and set fire to government and political party buildings in the fourth consecutive night of violent unrest.
Thousands of protesters angry over poor public services converged in the southern city of Basra on Thursday. The crowds clashed with security forces and hurled Molotov cocktails at the regional government headquarters.
Iraq’s Human Rights Commission said two protesters died during the violence, taking the death toll to 11 since the weeks-long protest escalated on September 3.
One protester died on Thursday night from burns sustained during the torching of the government headquarters, health and security sources said.
People attacked the offices of the state-run Iraqiya TV and set fire to the headquarters of the ruling Dawa Party, the Supreme Islamic Council and the Badr Organisation, whose leaders are all vying to form Iraq’s ruling coalition.
Protesters also torched the offices of a powerful Shia armed group, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, and those of the Hikma Movement, and stormed the house of the acting head of the provincial council.
The violence has prompted the temporary head of Iraq’s parliament to call an emergency session on Saturday.
Legislators would “discuss the problems, the solutions and the latest situation” in Basra, a statement said on Friday.
‘Government does not care’
Rights activists have accused security forces of opening fire on the demonstrators, while the government has blamed provocateurs in the crowds and say the troops were ordered not to use live rounds.
“The people protest and the government doesn’t care, treats them as vandals,” said Ali Saad, a 25-year-old at the rally Thursday in Basra.
“Nobody [here] is a vandal: the people are fed up, so yes they throw stones and burn tyres because nobody cares,” he told the AFP news agency near the building littered with debris.
Ahmed Kazem, who was also at the protest, urged leaders to respond to the demands of the demonstrators “so that the situation doesn’t degenerate”.
The 42-year-old said their demands included “public services, water, electricity and jobs”.
|The headquarters of Asaib Ahl al-Haq (pictured) was among the buildings set on fire by protesters [Essam al-Sudani/Reuters]|
Public anger has grown at a time when politicians are struggling to form a new government after an inconclusive parliamentary election in May.
Residents of the south complain of decades of neglect in the region that produces the bulk of Iraq’s oil wealth.
Mortar attack in Baghdad
Meanwhile, in Baghdad, three mortar shells landed inside the city’s heavily fortified Green Zone just after midnight on Friday, according to the Iraqi military.
The mortars landed on an “abandoned lot,” resulting in “no casualties or physical damage,” said a military statement.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
The mortar attack is the first such attack in several years on the Green Zone, which houses parliament, government buildings and many foreign embassies.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies