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Deadly protests sweep Iraq amid growing anger over public services, unemployment

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Deadly protests sweep Iraq amid growing anger over public services, unemployment

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The gates to Iraq's port of Umm Qasr re-opened Monday after being forced shut during days of protests across the south of the country over unemployment and poor government services.

Three officials said activities resumed at the port near the southern city of Basra after negotiations with protesters.

It came after two demonstrators were killed Sunday in clashes with Iraqi security forces in the town of Samawa. "Hundreds of people tried to storm a courthouse," said a police official.

The unrest is piling pressure on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who hopes to serve a second term once politicians form a new government following a May 12 parliamentary election tainted by allegations of fraud.

Abadi, who also serves as commander-in-chief of Iraq's armed forces, issued a nationwide order Sunday placing security forces on high alert in the southern provinces, aiming to stem the burgeoning protests.

Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has expressed solidarity with protesters, saying they faced an "extreme lack of public services."

Iraqi police prevent protesters storming a provincial council building in Basra, Sunday.
Iraqi police prevent protesters storming a provincial council building in Basra, Sunday.AP

Police in Basra wounded 48 people Sunday when they fired in the air to disperse a crowd of hundreds that tried to storm a government building and demonstrated near an oil field.

Some 28 members of the security forces were also wounded, according to Maj. Gen. Thamir al-Hussaini, commander of the Interior Ministry's Rapid Response Forces.

In a town near the southern city of Amara, police shot into the air to disperse protesters after demonstrators set fire to the municipality building. Thirteen protesters and seven policemen were wounded in the clashes.

Local officials said demonstrations have not affected crude production in Basra, whose shipments account for more than 95 percent of OPEC producer Iraq's state revenues.

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Abadi's Dawa party has dominated Iraqi politics since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

"The Dawa party has been running Iraq for 15 years and its leaders failed to live up to even a single promise they made," said Ziad Fadhil, 38, who is unemployed, in Basra. He held up a piece of cardboard to shield his head from the scorching sun.

A political bloc led by populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr unexpectedly won a majority in May's vote on an anti-corruption platform that had appeal across Iraq's electorate.

Abadi has said his caretaker government will release funds to Basra for water, electricity and health services but major relief is unlikely to come soon for the city once dubbed the "Venice of the Middle East" for its network of canals.

Iraq needs to generate billions of dollars to rebuild after its three-year war with Islamic State.