At least eight people are dead and dozens injured in weeklong protests over jobs and basic services, Iraq’s Ministry of Health spokesman Saif al-Bader said Monday.
The protests started in the southern Iraq port city of Basra and spread to different areas of the country.
At least 56 people have been wounded, seven of them critically, Bader said in a news conference.
Of the eight dead, two were killed in Basra, two in Najaf, three in al-Simawa and one in Karabala. A Ministry of Health worker was killed in a car accident related to the protests and one ambulance worker remains in critical condition, Bader said.
The Ministry of Electricity has taken steps to improve service in Basra, said spokesman Musa’ab al-Mudaris at the same press conference.
Heat, power issues add to unrest
Angry protests over unemployment and the lack of basic services have spread across southern Iraq since last week, as the oil-rich country tries to recover after many years of war.
The protests were exacerbated by issues such as sweltering heat, power cuts, water quality and sanitation problems.
The outpouring on the street spread through other provinces in the country’s Shiite heartland in the south, such as Dhi Qar, Najaf, Maysan and Babil. Protests also took place in Baghdad, the nation’s capital.
While some protests have been largely peaceful, others included rock-throwing, setting tires and buildings on fire and blocking roads.
Hundreds at oil installations, government buildings
Hundreds demonstrated at oil installations, offices of political parties and government buildings. Internet outages have been widespread except for Irbil and other Kurdish areas in northern Iraq.
Violence raged Friday, with clashes in Maysan province, where demonstrators stormed government offices in Amara. At least nine security forces and 21 protesters were injured, police said.
In the city of Nasiriya in Dhi Qar province, at least six civilians and 36 police officers were injured in protests, authorities said.
Protesters on Friday stormed the main area of Najaf’s airport and caused damage, a member of the Najaf City Council and a security officer said. Other protesters stormed government offices and set ablaze political party offices. At least five people were wounded in Najaf, including two security officers.
Some are ‘losing hope’
Um Faten, an Amara woman whose son was shot in the protests, said, “Enough is enough.”
“We are fed up with the situation – our sons had no other solution but to go out and protest,” said a woman in Amara. “I want my children to live a normal life, but it seems we are losing hope that things will get better here.”
Citizens have put up with the broken infrastructure and poor economy since war began in 2003. In chants, many say they have had enough with political parties.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged action by authorities to address complaints and also called for peaceful protests. The ayatollah is the spiritual leader of Shiite Iraqis.
Prime Minister warns against ‘aggression’
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with political officials and tribal leaders in Basra and with security officials to discuss public unrest spreading through the Shiite heartland.
On social media, Abadi said, “The government is working through maximum efforts to provide services to citizens” and that groups trying to “attack state institutions and private property” will be prosecuted.
“Aggression against Iraqi security forces means aggression against the country and its sovereignty,” he warned.
After more violence Sunday, Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan said the security forces are on “high alert.”
Mann said security forces did not open fire on the crowds or in any of the protests being held across Iraq on Sunday. This account conflicted with earlier reports that police did fire.
CNN’s Shelby Rose, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Johnny Hallam in Atlanta and Jomana Karadsheh in Istanbul contributed to this report.