Security forces deploy in Iraq’s Basra following violence

By QASSIM

ABDUL-ZAHRA

Associated Press

BASRA, Iraq — Iraqi security forces deployed on the streets of Basra on Saturday, a day after protesters in the southern city stormed the Iranian consulate and torched government buildings in violence that rocked the oil-exporting Shiite heartland and sparked alarm across a conflict-weary country.

Masked troops in combat fatigues set up checkpoints and rode through the city center in black pickup trucks with heavy weapons mounted in the back. Security forces in Humvees deployed at intersections.

The deployment came after an alliance of powerful Shiite militias, many of them backed by Iran, vowed to respond to the violent protests that have gripped the city for the past week, raising the threat of further violence.

At least 15 people were killed and 249 injured in clashes between protesters and security forces this week, health officials say.

Since June, Basra has been shaken by the most serious protests in the oil-rich southern region in years, with angry residents complaining of poor public services. In recent days, protests escalated, as crowds turned their rage on neighboring Iran, blaming its outsized influence in Iraq’s political affairs for their misery and calling for radical change. Iran controls powerful Shiite militias in Basra, home to some of the largest oil fields in Iraq.

Raad Abdelhamid, a Basra firefighter, said he fears for Iraq.

“The militias are responsible for this corruption,” he said as he stood outside the still-smoldering provincial government building on Saturday.