Srinagar: Hundreds of Iraqis stormed the airport and halted air traffic in the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf yesterday, extending protests about poor government services and corruption following demonstrations in the southern city of Basra, media reports said on Saturday.
Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, expressed solidarity with protesters, saying they faced an “extreme lack of public services” such as electricity in the suffocating summer heat.
“We can only stand with our dear citizens in their demands as we feel their great suffering,” media reports said quoting Sistani through an aide during a Friday sermon.
Sistani, who has millions of followers, rarely intervenes in politics but has wide sway over public opinion.
As per reports hundreds of demonstrators entered Najaf airport’s main hall and walked on to the tarmac. Witnesses said security forces allowed protesters to enter the main airport building.
Earlier in the day, residents took to the streets of the oil city Basra for a fifth straight day and blocked access to the nearby commodities port of Umm Qasr. Protests were also held in the cities of Amara and Nasiriya as public anger mounted over unemployment and delivery of basic services.
Iraqi politicians face growing unrest as they try to form a coalition government after a May 12 parliamentary election tainted by allegations of fraud.
A political bloc led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr won a majority in the poll on an anti-corruption platform which had appeal across Iraq’s electorate.