As protesters gathered at the entrance to Iraq's Siba natural gas field in a renewed protest over jobs, security forces in Basra started making the first of dozens of arrests. Baghdad is preparing for more protests.
An estimated 200 protesters gathered on Monday morning at the main gate leading to three of Iraq's major oil fields in the southern oil-exporting city of Basra.
Protests in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, started last week and escalated after security forces opened killed one person and wounded five others. They soon spread to other provinces.
The oil hub of Basra and other parts of the Shiite south have long been neglected, first by Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein and then by Shiite-led governments.
In a Friday sermon, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, expressed solidarity with the protesters, saying they faced an "extreme lack of public services."
Too little, too late
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has promised jobs to locals, mainly in the oil sector, since the recent spate of protest erupted last week — and said at the weekend there would be an urgent allocation of 3.5 trillion Iraqi dinars ($3 billion, €2.6 billion) for electricity and water projects.
The clampdown starts
Arrests started on Sunday night, with police chasing protesters along main roads and alleys during and after the protests in Basra.
Activists told The Associated Press the number of arrests may run into the hundreds.
The internet was also shut down for two days and there was a large deployment of security forces outside the local government building in Basra. Police also closed off surrounding streets with barbed wire.
The local airport in Basra was reopened on Monday after a two-day break. Kuwait Airways, the Royal Jordanian and Iran's Aviation Authority suspended flights to Najaf on Sunday, citing security concerns.
Iraq's vital Um Qasr port on the Persian Gulf, and two main border crossings, Safwan with Kuwait and Shalamcheh with Iran, were closed to both passengers and goods as protesters had blocked the main roads leading to the sites.
jbh/rc (Reuters, AP)