Five protesters were killed and 16 injured during a second day of clashes with security forces in Iraq’s southern city Basra, local health and security sources said.
Twenty-two members of the security forces were wounded, some by a hand grenade, the sources said, in some of the worst unrest reported during months of protests sweeping the long neglected south, heartland of Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim majority.
Protesters are angry over electricity outages during the summer, a lack of jobs, proper government services and entrenched corruption.
Basra residents say salt seeping in the water supply makes it undrinkable and sent hundreds to hospital, proof, they say, infrastructure is collapsing in the part of the country producing most of its oil wealth.
As clashes continued, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi convened an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the unrest and ordered the Interior Ministry to conduct an immediate investigation into the protests, state media reported.
Hundreds gathered at local government buildings, hurled petrol bombs and stones and attempted to block roads for a second night. Some protesters stormed a provincial government building and set it alight.
Security forces fired live rounds in the air as well as teargas to disperse the crowd, local sources said. Smoke was billowing from the outer perimeter of the provincial government headquarters, where many gathered earlier to mourn a protester who died on Monday night, Yasser Makki.
Crowds near government buildings dispersed by 11 pm after a citywide curfew was imposed.
Basra is a stronghold of Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shi’ite cleric and former leader of anti-American sectarian militia who recast himself as an anti-corruption campaigner.
In a tweet, Sadr appeared to back protesters, condemning tactics used by some security force members against people he said were “unarmed demonstrators who only want to live with dignity”.
Public anger has swelled 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 expressed support for the protests.
On Tuesday, mourners carried Makki’s body near the building, chanting “Yasser’s blood will not be lost”. They damaged the gate of the local government building but were dispersed by security forces using teargas before they could enter it.
Abadi ordered an investigation into Makki’s death during his weekly press conference.
“Our orders are clear in banning the firing of live ammunition during demonstrations,” Abadi said.
He suspended the electricity minister last month, saying his government had started punishing those responsible for poor services in Basra.