September 5, 2018 / 3:22 PM / 15 days ago

Iraqi security forces face new protests in Basra

BASRA, Iraq, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Iraqi security forces sprayed tear gas and fired into the air to try to disperse thousands of protesters on Wednesday in the southern city of Basra, in some of the worst unrest in the region for months.

The deaths of five protesters in clashes with security forces on Tuesday added to anger in the oil hub over poor government services. Like other cities in the long-neglected south, Basra is plagued by electricity outages, unemployment and entrenched corruption.

Twenty-two members of the security forces were wounded in Tuesday’s unrest, some by a hand grenade, security and health sources said.

On Wednesday frustrations were once again focused on the provincial governorate building, where thousands of people gathered, said a Reuters witness. The crowds were growing.

Basra residents say salt seeping into the water supply has made it undrinkable and sent hundreds to hospital, proof, they say, that infrastructure has been allowed to collapse in the part of the country that produces most of its oil wealth.

Iraq’s second biggest city, Basra is a stronghold of Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shi’ite cleric and former leader of an anti-American sectarian militia who has recast himself as an anti-corruption campaigner.

Public anger has swelled at a time when politicians are struggling to form a new government after an inconclusive parliamentary election in May.

Sadr’s bloc came in first place in the poll, which was tainted by allegations of corruption which forced a recount.

Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has expressed support for the protests.

Reporting by Aref Mohammed; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Andrew Roche

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