BASRA, Iraq (AP) — The Latest on the unrest in Iraq (all times local):
The local military commander of an alliance of powerful Shiite militias is vowing to respond to weeklong protests that have turned violent in the southern city of Basra.
The commander, known as Abu Yasser al-Jaafar,i held a news conference in the city Saturday. “We will have a response to those who are carrying out acts of arson and sabotage,” he proclaimed.
Angry protesters have torched government buildings and offices belonging to powerful Iranian-backed militias in weeklong protests demanding improved services and an end to corruption.
Al-Jaafari said that the lack of a response thus far should not be taken as a sign of weakness. He spoke at the city’s presidential palaces compound, where Shiite paramilitary troops are stationed.
The government-sanctioned alliance of Shiite militias is known as the “Popular Mobilization Forces” or “Hashed” in Arabic. Many of the militias are backed by Iran.
Assailants fired three Katyusha rockets at Iraq’s Basra airport Saturday, an airport official said, after a chaotic and violent night that saw hundreds of protesters setting ablaze the Iranian consulate in the city, attacking offices belonging to Iranian-backed militias and blocking roads.
The city of Basra, home to some of the largest oil fields in Iraq, has been the epicenter of angry protests over decades of government neglect, poor services and corruption. The demonstrations are the most serious to shake the oil-rich southern Shiite area in years, demanding an end to endemic corruption, soaring joblessness and crumbling infrastructure.
This week, they turned their rage on neighboring Iran, blaming its outsized influence in Iraq’s political affairs for their misery and calling for radical change.