By Aref Mohammed
BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) – Hundreds of Iraqi protesters stoned and tried to break into the provincial government headquarters in the southern oil hub of Basra on Friday to press demands for better public services and an end to pervasive corruption.
Some protesters also set fire to tyres outside the building and there were minor clashes with riot police who fired tear gas to try to quell the protest. No serious injuries were reported.
By 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) protesters had destroyed part of the concrete wall surrounding the headquarters and were hurling petrol bombs through the gap towards the building, while chanting anti-government slogans.
Protests have swept cities in the long neglected south, Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim heartland, over widespread electricity outages during the blistering hot Iraqi summer, a lack of jobs and proper government services, and entrenched graft.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi suspended the electricity minister last month and said earlier this week that his government had begun punishing those responsible for poor services in Basra, Iraq’s second biggest city.
Public anger is rising at a time when politicians are struggling to form a new government after an inconclusive parliamentary election in May. Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has expressed support for the protests.
Friday’s protests were particularly concerned with the high level of salt in Basra’s drinking water that residents say makes it undrinkable.
The city’s infrastructure is crumbling from years of neglect and under-investment, generating widespread bitterness as locals contrast their impoverishment with the oil wealth the province provides for federal government coffers.
(Reporting by Aref Mohammed; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Mark Heinrich)