Cautious calm prevails in Basra, Iraq after violent protests

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
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A sense of calm returned to Iraq's southern city of Basra yesterday after a week of violent protests over unemployment and poor public services that left at least 15 people dead and threatened stability in the oil-rich region.

Troops sent from Baghdad have reinforced police units, and government offices and markets reopened after a quiet night. Municipality workers were out in force cleaning up the streets and carting away debris from the clashes.

"The security situation is calm in Basra at the moment," Army Lieutenant Mohamed Khalaf told Anadolu Agency (AA). He said military and police forces have been redeployed across the troubled province after conducting a partial withdrawal in recent days. "Security forces are on alert to see how far protesters will be committed to not attacking public and private property," he added.

In recent days, protesters have attacked government offices, political party headquarters and the Iranian consulate. Many blame their woes on neighboring Iran's disproportionate influence on Iraqi politics and are calling for radical change.

On Saturday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi appointed a new military commander and police chief in Basra amid ongoing protests against poor public services and high unemployment. Since July 9, Iraq's Shiite-majority central and southern provinces, especially Basra, have been rocked by protests to demand better public services, more job opportunities and an end to government corruption. At least 30 people have been killed and scores injured since the protests began, according to Iraqi authorities.

Iraq is still without a new government nearly four months after national elections in which no party won a majority. Rival parliamentary blocs — one seen as friendlier to the U.S. and the other closely allied with Iran — each claim to have assembled a governing coalition. Prime Minister al-Abadi, part of the pro-U.S. bloc, and Basra's governor have traded blame for the crisis.

Basra, once known as the "Venice of the East" because of its freshwater canals, has been hit by an acute water crisis, including rising pollution and salt water levels. The city, where temperatures often approach 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) during the summer, has also been crippled by electricity shortages. Iraq's government has scrambled to meet the growing demand for public services and jobs, but has been hindered by years of endemic corruption and a financial crisis fueled by diminished oil revenues and the costly war against the Islamic State group. Basra is Iraq's second-largest province and home to about 70 percent of the country's proven oil reserves of 153.1 billion barrels. It is located on the Persian Gulf bordering Kuwait and Iran and is Iraq's only hub for oil exports.

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