Iraqi police wielded batons and rubber hoses to disperse about 250 protesters gathered at the main entrance to the Zubair oilfield near Basra on Tuesday as unrest across southern cities over poor basic services gathered pace.
Since demonstrations began nine days ago, protesters have attacked government buildings, branches of political parties and powerful Shi’ite militias and stormed the international airport in the holy city of Najaf.
Iraq’s military spokesman said authorities would not tolerate any actions that threaten the country’s security.
Officials and industry sources said the protests have not affected output at Zubair, run by Italy’s Eni, and the other major oilfields including Rumaila developed by BP and West Qurna 2 managed by Lukoil. Many Iraqis believe their leaders do not share the country’s oil wealth. Some demonstrators said foreign laborers were robbing them of employment at oil companies.
Three protesters have been killed in clashes with police, including one at West Qurna 2, and dozens wounded.
“We the people of Basra hear about the Iraqi oil and its huge revenues, but we never enjoy its benefits,” said 24-year-old protester Esam Jabbar.
“Strangers have decent jobs at our oilfields and we don’t have the money to pay for a cigarette. That’s wrong and must be stopped.” Jabbar said he was unemployed.
At the gate of Zubair field, police beat protesters on their backs and legs with batons and rubber hoses, witnesses said.
Blood ran down one policeman’s face after protesters hurled stones. Policemen also threw sand to put out tires that the protesters had set ablaze.
Iraq is the second-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries after Saudi Arabia.
Crude exports account for 95 percent of state revenue and any disruptions could badly damage its already limping economy at a time when Iraq needs tens of billions of dollars to rebuild after the three-year war with Daesh group.
Prolonged instability in the south could drive up global oil prices. Production at the Zubair field was 475,000 bpd, an Iraqi oil official said in May.
Iraq exported an average of 3.566 million barrels per day from its southern oilfields so far in July, said senior oil officials, levels confirming that the troubles have not disrupted crude shipments from the region.