BAGHDAD – Anti-government protesters blocked access to Iraq’s main Gulf port in Umm Qasr for a third day Wednesday, as protesters said recent efforts by political parties to placate them were insufficient.
At least 27 protesters were also wounded in the capital Baghdad in the early morning hours in brief confrontations with Iraqi security forces who fired tear gas canisters to repel them near a key bridge partly occupied by protesters.
Dozens of protesters blocked the main entrance to Umm Qasr port, Iraq’s largest commodities port, halting all trade activity, as trucks carrying grain, sugar and cooking oils stood idle, unable to enter or leave the area, and containers with shipments piled up on the dock. The port is an important source of revenue for the government.
“If (the government) doesn’t listen to us, we will keep staying here,” said a protester who requested anonymity, fearing retaliation. “Everything is inside, the (revenues from) trade companies go for the parties and the ports go for the state. This is clear. Let them not listen, we will keep staying here.”
Roads to the country’s second largest port in Khor al-Zubair were re-opened after protesters blocked them with burning tires the previous day, an Associated Press reporter saw. The port imports primarily refined oil products, such as benzene, and other goods.
Crude oil exports, which account for the lion’s share of state revenue, have been largely unaffected by the sit-ins because the oil is transported via pipeline to offshore terminals in the Basra Gulf, inaccessible to demonstrators.
Clashes in Baghdad happened between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. local time Wednesday morning near the Ahrar Bridge, security officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity under regulations.
Iraqi security forces used tear gas to repel the demonstrators, but the altercation only lasted a few minutes. There were no fatalities.
Since anti-government protests began Oct. 1, at least 320 people have been killed and thousands wounded in Baghdad and the mostly Shiite southern provinces. Demonstrators have taken to the streets in the tens of thousands over what they say is widespread corruption, lack of job opportunities and poor basic services, despite the country’s oil wealth.
Meanwhile, protesters said recent efforts by Parliament to pass reform bills fell short of meeting their demands.
Parliament convened on Tuesday and voted on a bill to cancel the financial privileges of officials and conducted a first reading of a much-anticipated electoral reform bill, but these did not appease protesters.
The leaderless, mass protests aim to sweep aside Iraq’s sectarian system imposed after the 2003 U.S. invasion and its entire political elite, blamed for massive corruption.
“We don’t believe this system can pass real reform,” said Najla, a protester in Baghdad who requested that only her first name be used. “We want to see an end to the system that creates the need for such reforms.”