BASRA: The discovery of four bodies dumped in a street in central Basra on Saturday morning sent shockwaves through the city.
Two of the dead had participated in the violent protests a day earlier.
The peaceful demonstrations against poor services and corruption in the province that provides most of Iraq's oil spiralled into a chaotic week of clashes that killed at least 15 people, left the Iranian consulate and other government buildings and offices of political parties ablaze.
The deadly unrest, led mostly by masked men, has left Iraq facing its latest political and security crisis as the country struggles to regain its feet after the war with Daesh.
Basra, once known as the "Venice of the East" because of its freshwater canals, has been hit by an acute water crisis and crippling electricity shortages this summer amid surging temperatures.
Adding to the outrage is a water pollution crisis and salt water seeping into tap water that is making residents sick.
The water is reportedly so polluted it cannot even be used for cooking or washing. The protests began in June, tapered off, but then restarted Monday following a surge in water poisoning cases.
Some link it to political crisis cantered in the capital Baghdad where rival political parties are competing to control the next administration.
Al-Fattah alliance, seen close to Iran and al-Sairoon led by fiery cleric Muqtada al Sadr have been desperately trying to put together a coalition of MPs that would be able to form the next government at the centre.
Both coalitions claimed they had formed the largest bloc last week and asked to be registered at the first session of the Parliament on Monday. The matter was sent to the supreme federal court to be settled.
On Saturday, the two leading groups in the parliament called on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to step down.
Muqtada al-Sadr 's Sairoon bloc, and the Fatah alliance led by secretary general of Badr Organization Hadi al-Ameri lashed out at the Iraqi premier over the Basra chaos.
"We demand the government apologize to the people and resign immediately," said Sairoon spokesman Hassan al-Aqouli.
Fatah spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi also condemned "the government's failure to resolve the crisis in Basra."
He said Fatah was "on the same wavelength" as Sairoon and that the pair would work together to form a new government.
Following these calls demonstrations lost momentum and turned into small, scattered sit-ins. However the situation suddenly erupted on Monday when a group of demonstrators, some using Molotov cocktails, stormed government building in the city. Police responded with live bullets and tear gas, seriously injuring two. One of the injured died of his wounds hours later.
The next day, the situation became more serious when a man among the protesters attacked a group of police with a grenade, killing one of the officers and injuring eight others.
Other groups attacked troops stationed near the local government building and by the end of the day, nine demonstrators were shot dead and scores wounded, including many members of the security forces. A number of governmental buildings were also set on fire.
On Thursday, troops deployed in Basra received orders from pro-American government in Baghdad not to clash with protesters as long as they remained away from oil facilities. This encouraged the demonstrators to attack and burn more than 20 buildings acting as headquarters to various political groups and their associated media stations.
The next day, the burning continued, and ended with the torching of the Iranian consulate building in south-eastern Basra.
The arson came despite heads of many influential tribes, local activists and politicians calling for people to withdraw from the demonstrations after they turned violent.
Many have referred to "masked" demonstrators leading the masses to carry out the attacks on the buildings without knowing their identity.
"As the demonstrations turned to be violent and infiltrators joined it, we ask all our sons to withdraw," Sheikh Adil Al-Mayah, the head of Mayah tribe, said.
The different factions have traded blame over who has been driving the riots. Because of its crude production of more than 3.5 million barrels per day, destabilizing security in Basra is in the interests of many local and regional parties.
Western media reports hinted that the followers of Al-Sadr were behind the arson..
But Sa'ad Al-Maliki, a Sairoon bloc leader in Basra said that he was surprised by what was happening and wonder who has the nerve to burn the headquarters of popular militia groups."
The headquarters of Badr organization and Assaib Ahl Al-Haq, main members of Iraq's Hashd al-Sha'abi, were among those burned by the arsonists. The same scenario was repeated with the Iranian consulate, which was attacked by the masked men and set on fire.
Hashd al-Sha'abi said in a statement that it has evidence showing US diplomatic missions have instigated the violence.
"We have complete information and documents that show the US embassy and consulate in the country caused the Basra unrest," Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of the volunteer anti-terror fighters, said on Sunday.
Iraq's Alahad television network said it had obtained audio recordings that revealed the Saudi intelligence agency's role in the Basra incidents. In a statement released on Saturday, Iraqi President Fuad Masum said "some extremists" had hijacked the protests to attack Iraqi and foreign buildings.
Masum underlined the need for boosting "brotherly relations" with Iran, which was famously the first country to rush to Iraq's help in 2014 when Daesh terrorists reached the gates of Baghdad.