Calm returns to Basra as Iraqi PM urged to quit

AP and AFP, BAGHDAD and BASRA, Iraq

Mon, Sep 10, 2018 - Page 4

A sense of calm has returned to the southern Iraqi city of Basra after a week of violent protests over unemployment and poor public services that left at least 15 people dead.

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

The oil-rich region has been convulsed by the most serious protests in years, with residents complaining of power outages, filthy tap water and soaring unemployment.

Protesters have attacked government offices, political party headquarters and the Iranian consulate.

Many blame their woes on Iran’s outsized influence on Iraqi politics and are calling for radical change.

Naqeeb al-Luaibi, a local activist, said protest organizers have decided to suspend the demonstrations after receiving death threats from Iran-backed militias. The militias accuse them of colluding with the US, which has long worked to curb Iranian influence in Iraq, allegations denied by the activists.

“We’ll suspend protests now to spare blood and we’ll return with a new approach,” he said. “We will not give up until our demands are met.”

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 US and the other closely allied with Iran — each claim to have assembled a governing coalition.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, part of the pro-US bloc, and Basra’s governor have traded blame for the crisis.

Al-Abadi on Saturday faced calls to resign as his alliance with a populist cleric who won the elections in May crumbled over the unrest.

The two leading groups in parliament called on al-Abadi to step down after Iraqi lawmakers held an emergency meeting on the public anger boiling over in Basra.

“We demand the government apologize to the people and resign immediately,” said Hassan al-Aqouli, spokesman for the list of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that won the most seats in the election.

The announcement dealt a severe blow to al-Abadi’s hopes of holding onto his post through a bloc.