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8 people dead during a week of protests over economic woes in southern Iraq: Ministry

Demonstrators are sprayed by water cannon employed by the Iraqi security forces during protests in the central shrine city of Najaf, Iraq, on July 14, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

The Iraqi Heath Ministry says eight demonstrators have so far lost their lives in protests over poor public services and alleged corruption in various southern cities in the Arab country since daily protests began in Iraq's Basra port city a week ago.

The ministry announced the grim news at a press conference in capital Baghdad on Monday, as the growing protests entered their second week with demonstrators rallying to put social problems in the spotlight, decrying poor government services and alleged corruption.

Earlier in the day, Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan said that 487 Iraqis had been wounded in southern Iraq, noting that half of them were security forces.

Medical sources, however, previously said that at least 11 civilians had been killed in the protests that rocked the southern cities during the past week.

On Sunday, hundreds of protesters rallied in Basra, where police used water cannons and tear gas as some of the demonstrators tried to storm the provincial government building. 

Basra is an important hub for oil exports which account for over 95 percent of Iraq's government revenues.

Long neglected, the city is one of the few cities in the Middle East without an effective water treatment system. Many of its waterways are stagnant cesspools, with state officials blaming a public funding crisis caused by years of low oil prices. Basra residents had previously warned of more rallies if their demands were not met.

A similar rally was also staged in the holy city of Najaf on Friday as public anger mounted over unemployment and delivery of basic services. Local sources said hundreds of demonstrators entered the main hall of the city’s airport and walked on to the tarmac, temporarily disrupting air traffic.

On Friday, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s top Shia cleric, issued a statement, expressing solidarity with the protesters. He added that he was concerned about people’s difficult living conditions.

The protests over basic services come at a sensitive time when Iraqi political factions are trying to form a coalition government after the May 12 parliamentary elections.

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