Anti-government protests erupted again in Iraq’s Nasiriyah, hours after a delegation dispatched by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to defuse the tensions left the city.
One person was killed and 36 others, including police members, were wounded when security forces used tear gas to disperse the protests.
The government has been seeking to end the protests in Nasiriyah, which erupted on Sunday, ahead of a visit by Pope Francis I in March.
A spokesman for the province’s police said that the Joint Operations Command has prepared a security plan for the visit.
“The protests will not affect the historic trip because the residents are keen on preserving the reputation of their city,” he added.
Protesters are demanding the dismissal of Dhi Qar Governor Nazem al-Waeli, the arrest of those behind the abduction of activists and an end to the excessive use of force against the rallies.
Kadhimi had dispatched the delegation, comprised of the interior minister and head of national security, to Nasiriyah to assess the situation. The delegation met with tribal elders, representatives of the protest movement and some security commanders.
This is not the first government delegation to head to the city. The PM had dispatched a similar one in November. That delegation was on a fact-finding mission in wake of the murders and kidnappings that had targeted protesters. It has obviously failed seeing as the violence and protests have persisted.
Amid the lack of trust between the local and federal authorities and the protesters, observers believe that it is unlikely for the tensions in Nasiriyah to die out any time soon. In fact, the demonstrators appear to be escalating their actions as they insist on the dismissal of the governor.
Activist Abbas al-Nasseri said: “The sense of frustration and lack of trust among the youth is fueling the anger that has persisted in Nasiriyah for months.”
He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Many protesters believe the government delegations only seek to contain the tensions. They are not thinking of ways to resolve and address the causes of the anger. This makes their successive visits futile.”
He stressed that the protest demands are clear in demanding that the murderers of demonstrators be held to account, that kidnappings be ceased and that the governor be removed from his post. Other demands include providing job opportunities and basic services.
The government has so far failed in meeting these demands.
Sources from the government delegation said Baghdad was not seeking to introduce any administrative changes in the province.
Meanwhile, in the neighboring Wasit province the protest movement succeeded in opening an office for the province. Nabil Shamma, brother of musician Naseer Shamma, was appointed as official in charge with managing the affairs of the provincial capital Kut.
The office was opened after an agreement was reached between the protesters and representatives of the premier.