Iraq parliament to convene for emergency session to discuss Basra protests

Basra protests explode into widespread violence

Iraq parliament to convene for emergency session to discuss Basra protests

The attack came after a day of rage in the southern city where hundreds of protesters stormed the fortified Iranian consulate, causing no casualties but sparking condemnation.

Sources said a group of people who broke the security siege gathered in front of the public building and set it on fire.

On Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he would speed up the release of funds meant to improve basic services in Basra.

Elsewhere in the city, protesters tried to attack the headquarters of Assaib Ahl Al-Haq Shiite militia and the guards stationed there opened fire.

Demonstrators on Friday attacked the building, which is located in the southern part of Basra, prompting security forces to open fire to quell the protests. In addition, 18 members of security forces have been injured. By nightfall, however, they were few and far between in the city centre and were not interfering heavily in protesters' activities.

Thousands of demonstrators converged in central Basra Thursday after local officials made a decision to scrap an earlier curfew imposed by central authorities in Baghdad, with the atmosphere appearing calmer than in previous days.

Iraqi protesters are seen in front of the burnt Iranian Consulate in Basra, Iraq September 7, 2018.

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Umm Qasr, Iraq's only big seaport, was also shut down by demonstrators on Thursday.

Protesters blocked the entrance to Umm Qasr port, the main lifeline for grain and other commodity imports that feed the country. Trucks and staff were unable to get in or out of the complex.

Oil exports, handled at offshore terminals, remained untouched by the unrest.

"On paper, Basra is one of the richest cities in the world in relation to the production of oil", Lukman Faily, a former Iraqi Ambassador to the US, told NPR.

It is the fourth straight night of violent protests but the unrest has been rumbling since July.

The protests in Basra, led by residents who say they have been driven to the streets by corruption that allowed infrastructure to collapse, leaving no power or safe drinking water in the heat of summer, intensified on Monday.

A Health Ministry spokesman told a news conference in Baghdad that 6,280 people had been recently hospitalized with diarrhea due to the oversalinated water.

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Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and key ministers are to attend the parliament session, which was demanded by populist cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose political bloc won the largest number of seats in May elections although a new government has yet to be formed.

Iraq, however, suffers from persistent corruption and many Iraqis complain that the oil wealth is unfairly distributed.

Leading political figures, embroiled in government formation negotiations in Baghdad, have scrambled to respond to the crisis, condemning rivals for inaction.

Lawmakers and ministers will meet on Saturday to discuss the water contamination crisis which has triggered the protests, parliament said in a statement.

Politicians must present "radical and immediate" solutions at the meeting or step down if they fail to do so, he said.

The government accused "saboteurs" among the protesters of vandalizing public property, while protesters accuse security forces of using live ammunition to disperse peaceful demonstrations.

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