Protests in Iraq have continued for longer a week, on Monday continuing in the southern province of Diyala and the city of Nasiriyah.
Initially, citizens of Basra, Iraq’s second largest province and home to about 70% of the country’s proven oil reserves have gone to the streets demanding better public services and jobs. Security forces in the country are on high alert and internet has been blocked in the country’s Shiite heartland, as reported by ABC News. According to Al Jazeera, the protests escalated after on July 8th, security forces opened fire, thus killing one person. The citizens of the southern province denounced corruption, demanded water, electricity and jobs as well as poor governance of the region.
The protests also come at a time when Iraq awaits the final results of a partial recount of the vote that happened in May 2018 before a government may be formed. These elections had the lowest turnout in the 15 years since Sadam Hussein’s overthrowing and were wrought with allegations of fraud and irregularities.
On Saturday the protests reached capital Baghdad, protesters set tires on fire and tried to break into the Badr Organization’s office, forcing police to open fire, luckily there were no casualties.
In Najaf, the Shiite holy city, protesters blocked and torched part of the airport, forcing Kuwait, Iran and Jordan’s national air services suspended flights to the second biggest airport in Iraq, as quoted by ABC News.
The protests have led attacks on party offices, including those of the ruling Dawa Party. Dozens of protesters have been injured, and on Saturday, July 14th there were two victims. The total death toll according to Al Jazeera is, as of July 17th, 8 and protesters claim that they are organizing peacefully, however the response of the security forces has been excessive.
The government in Baghdad promises to address the concerns. On Friday, July 13th, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief and is in power until a new government can be formed rushed from a NATO summit in Brussels to Basra to convene in a six-minister committee, headed by the Oil Minister, Jabar Ali al-Luabi. The committee and the Prime minister promised jobs for those that live in the regions near the oil fields and announced financing for urgent projects such as water and electricity. Abadi also asked the state-run Basra Oil Company to provide more jobs to the locals. His promise for investment of $3 billion was met with disbelief.
The protest was also backed by one of Iraq’s top Shiite Clerics Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, according to DW. Sheikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai, who spoke on behalf of the Grand Ayatollah said:
“The dear governorate of Basra is the number one in providing the country with financial revenue. And it is the number one in the number of martyrs and those who have been wounded in the fight against the Islamic State group terrorists. So, it is not fair, indeed it is not acceptable, that this governorate is one of Iraq’s poorest.”
Basra city and southern Iraq in general are predominantly dominated by Shiite Arabs.
The protesters, however, were not dissuaded by the promises, claiming that every year they are given the same promises to no avail. Abadi’s status as a caretaker until government can be formed and the ongoing talks for the formation of a government with a broad coalition between the Dawa Party and the coalition of Communists and a bloc led by the Shiite Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Thus there is no guarantee that Abadi’s promises will be implemented, and even if attempts are made there can be no guarantee that corruption will not intervene in the plans of providing of public services, jobs and better governance of the region.