Protests continue in Iraq’s Basra over unemployment and poor services

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Iraqi army members run during a battle against Islamic State militants, in the Wahda district of eastern Mosul, Iraq, January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Demonstrators have taken to streets in southern Iraqi cities to protest the economy. The unrest follows a May 12 parliamentary election tainted by allegations of fraud. The protests are in a major oil-producing region.

Iraqi protesters shout slogans near the main provincial government building in Basra, Iraq on July 14, 2018.
Iraqi protesters shout slogans near the main provincial government building in Basra, Iraq on July 14, 2018. (Reuters)

About 200 protesters gathered at the main entrance to Iraq’s Siba natural gas field on Monday, police and energy sources said, following a week of unrest over poor services sweeping southern cities.

The demonstration has not affected operations at Siba, which is run by Kuwait Energy PLC, Siba officials said.

Angry residents of the southern oil-exporting city of Basra have demonstrated in recent days at the main gate to three major oil fields, but did not affect crude production or exports according to authorities.

Growing anger has put a spotlight on the performance of Prime Minister Haider al Abadi, who is seeking a second term after a May 12 parliamentary election.

The political bloc led by populist cleric Moqtada al Sadr came first in the election, which was tainted by allegations of fraud, after promising to ease hardships and fight corruption.

Ongoing protests

Two protesters were killed on Sunday in clashes with Iraqi security forces in the town of Samawa, a police official said.

Earlier, police in oil hub Basra wounded 48 people when they fired in the air to disperse a crowd of hundreds that tried to storm a government building and demonstrated near an oil field.

Some 28 members of the security forces were also wounded, according to Major General Thamir al Hussaini, commander of the Interior Ministry’s Rapid Response Forces.

In a town near the southern city of Amara, police shot into the air to disperse protesters after demonstrators set fire to the municipality building. Thirteen protesters and seven policemen were wounded in the clashes.

Iraq’s top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, has expressed solidarity with protesters, saying they faced an “extreme lack of public services.”

On Saturday night, protesters attacked and set fire to branches of Prime Minister Haider al Abadi’s Islamic Dawa Party, the National Wisdom movement led by Ammar al Hakim, the Iranian-backed Al Badr Organisation and the Shia Supreme Islamic Council Party in Maysan.

Around noon, Basra anti-riot police fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse the protesters, said Sadiq Saleh, one of the demonstrators.

“I will not leave my place here until I get all my rights,” said the 35-year-old who has been out of work for the past three years.

“The government lies to us, they always give us such promises and we get nothing.”

Baghdad protests

There were also similar protests on Saturday in Baghdad. Hundreds poured into Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and the eastern Shia district of Sadr City.

Some protesters set tires on fire and tried to break into the Badr Organisation’s office in Sadr City, prompting guards to open fire.

No casualties were reported.

Protests in Basra boiled over on Tuesday, when security forces opened fire, killing one person and wounding five people, and spread to other provinces within days.

Angry mobs broke into local government buildings and burned the offices of some political parties in some cities.

Airport delays

In Najaf, the protesters broke into Iraq’s second-busiest airport, causing damages to the passenger terminal and delaying fights.

Citing security concerns, Kuwait Airways and the Royal Jordanian suspended their flights to Najaf until further notice. Flights to other Iraqi airports have not been affected, they said.

Also, FlyDubai, based in the United Arab Emirates, said it cancelled Saturday’s flight to Najaf and suspended all flights until July 22. It added the carrier will continue to monitor the situation.

In a bid to contain the protests, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi dispatched a six-minister committee headed by the oil minister, Jabar Ali al Luaibi.

The committee promised jobs for those living in the areas around the oil fields and announced allocations for urgent projects, mainly for water.

On Friday, Abadi flew to Basra from the NATO summit in Brussels to try to diffuse the unrest. He also asked the state-run Basra Oil Company to provide more jobs to locals and announced urgent allocations.

But that didn’t assuage the protesters.

“These announcements are just anaesthetisation to the residents of Basra,” Hussein, the activist, said. “Every year, they give the same promises, and nothing happened on the ground.”

The only solution is “to replace the current faces that represent the parties that failed to develop Basra by new faces from new political parties from Basra itself,” he also said.

Like others, Hussein demanded Baghdad give more powers to a new, local Basra government.

Basra is Iraq’s second-largest province and home to about 70 percent of the country’s proven oil reserves of 153.1 billion barrels. It is located on the Persian Gulf bordering Kuwait and Iran, and is Iraq’s only hub for all oil exports nowadays to the international market.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies
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