Demonstrators at Al Jumariyah Bridge during a protest over corruption, lack of jobs and poor services in Baghdad, Iraq on October 28, 2019. (Photo: VCG)
Weeks of deadly violence in Iraq over protests against an entrenched political elite showed no signs of abating. At least four more protesters were shot dead by Iraqi security forces in Baghdad on Thursday, and four others during a sit-in in the southern city Basra.
The protesters were trying to remove barriers near two bridges that lead to the western bank of the Tigris River and provide access to the Green Zone, which houses government offices and foreign embassies. Security forces used live fire against protesters. On Thursday, at least 35 people were reportedly wounded during the clashes near the Shuhada Bridge alone.
Now, all bridges leading to the Green Zone have been blocked by security forces.
Elsewhere in southern Iraq, gunfire was used against demonstrators in Basra, causing four deaths. Basra is the main source of Iraq's oil wealth.
Another main port of the country, which receives most of the grain, vegetable oils and sugar that Iraq depends upon, has been forced to close once again because of the demonstrations.
Hours after the Umm Qasr port resumed service earlier on Thursday, dozens of protesters, including relatives of a demonstrator killed during weeks of violence, returned and started burning tires and blocking the road to the port. Cargo-carrying trucks came to a standstill and the port shut down again, port officials said.
The crackdown by authorities against protesters has killed more than 260 people, since the demonstrations broke out on October 1 over the lack of jobs, chronic power and clean water shortages, poor education and healthcare, and corruption.
The economy is beginning to feel the pinch as well.
The internet returned briefly in most parts of Iraq on Thursday but went out again after 1:00 p.m. local time (1000 GMT). A Reuters source said private banks in Iraq had recorded losses of some $16 million per day since the internet was first shut down at the beginning of October.
Combined losses by the private banks and mobile phone companies, money transfer services, tourism and airline booking offices had averaged more than $40 million per day, the source said – almost $1.5 billion for Iraq in just over a month.
Oil and security officials said operations have resumed at the nearby Nassiriya oil refinery on Thursday, where protesters had stopped fuel tankers entering or leaving the day before. The halting of fuel tankers that transport fuel from the Nassiriya refinery to regional gas stations caused fuel shortages across the southern Iraqi province of Dhi Qar. The refinery had recently been producing around half its capacity, oil officials said.
The administration says it is enacting reforms but has offered nothing that is likely to satisfy the resentment. Protesters, mostly unemployed youths, blame a political elite that has ruled Iraq since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and demand a complete overhaul of the political system.