Anti-government protesters in Iraq Tuesday blocked the country’s second-largest commercial port, bringing commerce to a standstill amid widespread ongoing demonstrations against corruption.
More than 300 people have been killed and thousands more wounded in Baghdad and various southern provinces since anti-government protests broke out last month.
Demonstrators have taken to the streets in the tens of thousands over what they’ve called widespread corruption, lack of job opportunities and poor basic services, despite the country’s oil wealth.
Security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and stun guns to repel protesters, tactics that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday would be punished with sanctions.
“We will not stand idle while the corrupt officials make the Iraqi people suffer,” Pompeo told reporters in Washington. “Today, I am affirming the United States will use our legal authorities to sanction corrupt individuals that are stealing Iraqis' wealth and those killing and wounding peaceful protesters.”
On Tuesday, more than a dozen protesters blocked the main entrance to the Khor al-Zubair port, halting trade activity as oil tankers and other trucks carrying goods were unable to enter or exit. The port, the second-largest in the country, has imported commercial goods and materials as well as refined oil products.
Protesters had burned tires and cut access to the main Gulf commercial port in Umm Qasr on Monday and continued to block roads Tuesday.
Iraqi civilians increasingly have been relying on boats to ferry them across the Tigris River as ongoing standoffs between demonstrators and Iraqi security forces on three key bridges have shut main thoroughfares connecting eastern and western Baghdad.
The Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahrar bridges, which have been occupied in part by protesters following days of deadly fighting, connected both sides of the city by passing over the Tigris River.
The blockages have left Iraqis who needed to make the daily commute for work, school and other day-to-day activities with no choice but to rely on riverboats.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.