Deadly clashes continued in Iraq’s southern oil hub of Basra after hundreds gathered to mourn the death of a protester killed a day earlier.
At least six people were killed and 12 injured in violent demonstrations near a provincial government building on Tuesday when protesters stormed the office and set it alight, sources on the ground told Al Jazeera.
Sources on the ground said members of the security forces had also been injured.
“The situation is continuing to escalate after the death of a protester yesterday,” said demonstrator Laith Abdelrahman. “Security forces are using live ammunition and tear gas to break up the demonstrations.”
Yasser Makki died in a hospital following clashes with security forces on Monday night, while six other people were hurt.
As the clashes continued, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi held an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the unrest and ordered the Ministry of Interior to conduct an immediate investigation into the protests, state media reported.
Demonstrations have been ongoing for months in southern Iraq over poor government services, corruption, and a shortage of potable water.
According to Abdelrahman, the government office caught fire after protesters hurled petrol bombs at security personnel.
“There is a big fire in the provincial government building, which has now become completely enveloped in flames,” he said.
Al-Abadi ordered an investigation into Makki’s death, while the local head of Iraq’s Human Rights Commission, Mahdi al-Tamimi, also called for a probe.
“Our orders are clear in banning the firing of live ammunition during demonstrations,” al-Abadi said in his weekly news conference, according to state TV.
|Hundreds gathered to mourn the death of Yasser Makki, who was killed in clashes on Monday [Reuters]
Nabil al-Assadi, another demonstrator in Basra, told Al Jazeera that, despite attempts to break up the demonstration, protesters have not retreated.
“Security forces have been using tear gas and live ammunition to break us up, but that is making us more adamant to continue,” he said, adding they were demanding that the local chief of security step down.
“This extensive use of force against protesters, who are demanding legitimate rights, is unacceptable,” al-Assadi added.
Mustafa Saadoun, director of the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights, said six people were killed on Tuesday and 12 wounded in the violence.
Twenty-three protesters have been killed since July 8 when the wave of demonstrations erupted across Iraq over electricity outages, unemployment, and official corruption.
“It is clear the government is using excessive force. It is also clear the use of live ammunition is direct and targeted. Many of those injured have been wounded in the head,” said Saadoun.
Although Prime Minister al-Abadi suspended the electricity minister last month – saying his government is taking measures against those responsible for poor services in Basra – protests have continued.
Public anger in Iraq has also increased at a time when politicians are struggling to form a new government. An inconclusive first parliamentary session finished on Monday as two rival blocs continue to vie for power.
In recent weeks, protests have also focused on water contamination in Basra as thousands were admitted to hospitals in the southern province.
Deepmala Mahla, country director for the NGO Mercy Corps, said the situation was extremely dire.
“There is a health crisis which stems from water contamination, and there have been thousands of cases of people going to hospital with symptoms as a result,” she told Al Jazeera.
Tests showed faecal contamination was high while chlorine levels were low in water supplies, she said.
“There is an acute shortage in the quantity and quality of suitable drinking water in the south of Iraq. These conditions are worrying, making the stakes very high and the risk of a cholera outbreak possible,” Mahla said.
Iraq’s government said it is investigating the water supply in Iraq’s second-largest city.