7 demonstrators killed in Iraq’s Basra within 48 hours

Officials accuse ‘saboteurs’ of inciting violence while rights committee blames army for using ‘excessive' force

7 demonstrators killed in Iraq’s Basra within 48 hours

The number of demonstrators killed in Iraq’s southern Basra province has risen to seven within the past 48 hours after another protester succumbed to injuries Wednesday evening, according to a local medical source.

On Tuesday, six Iraqis were killed during a demonstration in Basra city held to protest high unemployment, poor public services and corruption.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, a source at Basra’s general hospital -- preferring anonymity -- said a seventh demonstrator had died after having been shot Wednesday evening.

In a statement, Mahdi al-Tamimi, a member of a parliamentary human rights committee, confirmed the death of a seventh protester.

Wednesday evening saw violent clashes between security forces and demonstrators outside Basra’s provincial headquarters, with protesters at one point setting the building on fire.

According to a Thursday statement released by the rights committee, a total of 24 protesters have been killed in Basra since demonstrations first erupted on July 9.

The committee has accused security forces of using “excessive force” against unarmed protesters, resulting in the death of at least nine of the latter and the injury of 93 others.

At least 18 security personnel have been injured over the same period, according to the rights committee.

Government officials, meanwhile, have accused “saboteurs” of inciting violence, while demonstrators accuse security forces of resorting to deadly force to disperse peaceful protests.

On Wednesday, Army Commander Jamil al-Shammari blamed “unidentified gunmen” for the recent protester deaths in Basra.

Shortly afterward, Iraq’s Sairoon coalition -- led by firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- called for the dismissal of leading army officers in Basra, who it blamed for the recent deaths.

“The government -- both federal and local -- is tasked with safeguarding lives and preventing the use of undue force,” leading Sairoon member Hassan al-Akouli said at a news conference in Baghdad.

Since early July, Iraq’s Shia-majority southern and central provinces -- especially Basra -- have been rocked by popular protests, which at one point spread to the capital.

Demonstrators demand improved public services, more job opportunities and an end to perceived government corruption.

Meanwhile, negotiations remain underway over the formation of the country’s next government following controversial May 12 general polls, results of which were disputed for several months.