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Iraqi officials condemn violent Basra protests, point finger at US, Daesh, Ba'athists

Iraqi protesters gather outside the burnt-down local government headquarters in the southern city of Basra on September 7, 2018 during demonstrations against poor public services. (Photo by AFP)

Iraqi officials have denounced recent deadly demonstrations in the southern city of Basra, saying they believe the US, Daesh terrorists and remnants of former Ba’ath regime are behind the violence.

Protesters have taken to the streets of Basra over the past few days to condemn corruption and lack of basic service and criticize the government for the collapse of regional infrastructure.

But the protests took an ugly turn on Friday as a group of masked assailants ransacked government buildings and offices of political parties and set fire to them in the southern oil-rich city of Basra.  

The Iranian consulate was among the premises damaged in the rampage. 

Sheikh Qais al-Khazali, secretary general of Iraq’s Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq group, a main component of the Popular Mobilization Units also known by its Arabic name Hashd al-Sha’abi, said that the Basra riots were part of an American project to disintegrate the Arab country.

He also warned that the situation in Basra had reached a boiling point and that Washington sought to designate a US-allied person as the new Iraqi prime minister.

Khazali stressed that Iraqi fighters would not allow the Basra crisis to turn into a sectarian strife.

Ammar Hakim, Iraqi Shia cleric and head of National Wisdom Movement (Hikma), released a statement expressing concern about the Basra incident.

He warned that the country is at a dangerous juncture and needs realistic reflection.

Hakim also condemned attempts meant to turn peaceful protests into deliberate destruction of public property.

The Iraqi Health Ministry said a total of 12 people had been killed and 50 others injured since Tuesday when the Basra violence erupted.

Basra Coordination Committee said the latest acts of sabotage had been committed by Daesh elements and Ba'athists.

It also announced a halt to protests on Saturday in order to "study mistakes that led to the burning of buildings that has nothing to do with the grievances of the protesters."

Additionally, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said the storming of the Iranian consulate had nothing to do with protesters’ demands.

“The targeting of diplomatic missions is unacceptable and detrimental to the interests of Iraq,” said ministry spokesman Ahmed Mahjoub.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered an investigation into the protest deaths and instructed security forces not to use live ammunition.

Iraqi officials have also imposed a curfew on Basra starting at 4 p.m. local time (1300 GMT) on Saturday, a military statement says.

Iraqi premier warns of armed conflict amid Basra unrest

Meanwhile, Abadi has warned that unrest in Basra could turn into an armed conflict, the Arabic-language Iraqi news website reported.

An Iraqi parliament source said that during an emergency meeting of lawmakers of Saturday, the premier warned that “we have to separate the political aspect from the security and service one; otherwise, the disagreement will develop into an armed conflict.”

This comes as the two leading groups in Iraq's parliament called on Abadi to resign, after the emergency meeting of lawmakers.

"We demand the government apologies to the people and resign immediately," said Hassan al-Aqouli, spokesman for the list of senior Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which won the most seats in a May election.

Ahmed al-Assadi, spokesman for the second-largest Conquest Alliance list, denounced "the government's failure to resolve the crisis in Basra."

Iraqi lawmakers met Saturday to discuss the unrest in Basra. Abadi joined the session with several ministers.

Hours before parliament met, four rockets fired by unidentified assailants struck inside the perimeter of Basra airport, security sources said.

Staff at the airport, which is located near the US consulate in Basra, said flights were not affected.

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