Iraq’s National Security Council deployed security forces and cut internet services Saturday as protests that began in Basra spread to several other cities.
The council held an emergency meeting Saturday in Baghdad after protests over high unemployment, poor government services and corruption spread from Basra to Baghdad, Najaf, Amara and Nasiriyah.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a statement saying “infiltrators” had used “peaceful protests to attack public and private property.” He promised that government forces “will take all the necessary measures to counter those people.”
At least two people have died in the protests in the city of Amara as protesters blocked roads, lit tires on fire and, according to a spokesman for area health authorities, fired guns “indiscriminately.” One person died earlier this week in Maysan when Iraqi forces shot at protesters reportedly trying to set fire to government buildings.
In Najaf, security forces were deployed in the streets Saturday.
Cuts to internet service reportedly took place in Baghdad, Najaf and Basra.
The protests began in Basra early this week, after residents of Iraq’s most oil-rich city grew fed up with its own poverty, water and power shortages, and the summer heat, which can approach 50 degrees Celsius at the height of the season.
Police confronted protesters in Basra when they gathered near an oil field operated by Russian oil firm Lukoil.
On Friday, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani spoke out in a televised sermon to offer support for the demonstrators. He said it was not fair that residents of Iraq’s most profitable city live in such poor conditions.
In response, Abadi traveled from a summit in Brussels to Basra, where he asked the Basra Oil Company to hire more locals.
Abadi is a caretaker prime minister. Iraq is undergoing a vote recount after May’s national elections, stalling efforts to form a new government.