Anti-Gov't Protests Sweep S. Iraq

Anti-Gov't Protests Sweep S. Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Anti-government protests swept Iraq's oil-rich south on Sunday as demonstrators burned tires and blocked main arteries, outraged by rampant government corruption, poor services and scarcity of jobs.

In Basra, the southern province that accounts for nearly 85% of the country's crude oil production, protesters burned tires in the city center cutting main roads.

At least 342 people have died since demonstrations began Oct. 1, when thousands of Iraqis, mostly youth, took to the streets to decry corruption and poor services. The leaderless uprising seeks to overthrow the political establishment.

Security forces appeared to have fired live rounds at protesters near the Umm Qasr port, killing three according to an official from the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, who requested anonymity in line with regulations.

Protesters had cut roads leading to Umm Qasr, the country's main commodities port, halting all trade activity. Security forces cleared the area of protesters on Thursday.

In the southern province of Nassiriya, protesters blocked key thoroughfares and main bridges with burning tires. Acrid smoke billowed from the city's Shiite Endowment building, a governing body in charge with regulating the administration of mosques, when protesters set it alight.

In Baghdad, at least 13 people were wounded as clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces continued for a fourth day.

Sixteen people were killed and over 100 wounded in the renewed clashes, which kicked off Thursday as protesters tried to scale a concrete barrier on historic Rasheed Street prompting security forces to fire live ammunition, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them.

On Sunday, protesters carried the coffin of one dead demonstrator across Rasheed Street to the adjacent Ahrar Bridge. Protesters are occupying part of three strategic bridges - Jumhuriya, Ahrar and Sinar - in a standoff with security forces.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence encouraged the Iraqi government to show restraint with the protesters, speaking during an unannounced trip to Iraq on Saturday.