Iraq’s embattled PM visits Basra after week-long protest
BASRA, Iraq (AP) — Iraq’s embattled prime minister Haider al-Abadi visited the southern city of Basra, on Monday, where 15 people were killed in weeklong protests over poor public services and soaring unemployment.
The visit came two days after Al-Abadi and Basra governor Asaad al-Aidani got into a shouting match in front of cameras in Parliament over who was to blame for Basra’s failing services.
The prime minister, who took office in Sept. 2014, is under pressure to resign, as Basra convulses with the worst unrest it has seen in years.
Demonstrators returned to the streets Monday night, after one day of calm, demanding al-Abadi leave Basra.
“This is a cheap visit,” said Waleed al-Ansari, one of the protest organizers.
“They are making a mockery of the blood of our martyrs,” he said. “We want services.”
Al-Abadi met with city and religious leaders in a gathering closed to the press.
The unrest comes as lawmakers in Baghdad are deadlocked over selecting a new prime minister, after the country held elections in May.
But there are calls now on al-Abadi to give up on seeking a second term.
On Monday, the office of the country’s highest Shiite authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said he would not support any former prime ministers to return to the top post.
The populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on al-Abadi to resign, two days before. Al-Sadr’s election list came in first in the polls, winning 54 seats in the 329-seat legislative body. Al-Abadi’s list came in third, with 42 seats.
Oil-rich Basra and other cities in Iraq’s southern Shiite heartland have been protesting since July over endemic corruption, soaring joblessness and poor public services. Protesters and security forces have been killed in confrontations when protesters damaged and burned government offices and attacked security forces with stones and Molotov cocktails.