Iraqi media reports a number of protesters were killed after security forces stormed a sit-in camp Sunday in front of provincial council headquarters in the southern port city of Basra. Iraq's prime minister has has vowed to increase government spending in Basra to improve public services and increase job opportunities for young people.
Protesters shouted and screamed as armed Iraqi forces fired at them to disperse protests in Basra. Amateur video appeared to show protesters falling to the ground after being shot. Iraqi officials claimed security forces had fired into the air to disperse the protesters.
One protester claimed forces loyal to pro-Iranian Shi'ite militia commander Hadi al Amari had fired at the crowd.
Government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said the government is investigating.
He says it has not been confirmed Shi'ite militiamen fired on the protesters, but government security forces were in a state of full alert to protect the demonstrators.
Arab media showed video of the headquarters of mostly Shi'ite political parties that were ransacked and burned by protesters during the past 48 hours. Shi'ite parties are vying for control of the next Iraqi government, following disputed parliamentary elections.
Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of several mostly shi'ite cities in southern Iraq to demand improved public services, such as water and electricity. Frequent power outages amid an intense summer heat have left many angry and disenchanted.
Hadithi claims low oil prices have exacerbated the economic crisis, forcing government cutbacks in services.
Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi told local dignitaries the government would step up spending on the region.
He says rebuilding the country takes time and that it is not possible to move from a state of war against the Islamic State group to a position of complete focus on public services in a heart-beat.
Local leaders like Sheikh Mansour Tamimi told a news conference the problem is not lack of money, but government corruption.
He says current and former Iraqi officials, from provincial council members to government ministers, are all corrupt and must be punished.
Iraqi media reported the government imposed a curfew on Basra province and security forces were on high alert in Najaf and Karbala, where protesters attacked government buildings. Internet outages were also reported across much of the region.