Hundreds of Iraqis took to the streets on Wednesday in the southern city of Nasiriyah to protest against food price increases that are being blamed on the war in Ukraine.
Since the Russian military campaign began on February 24, prices of many food items and construction materials that are imported from Ukraine have increased by 20 per cent to 50 per cent in Iraqi markets. Prices of wheat were already increasing because of rising global demand and drought in producing regions.
This has added another burden on a nation where the national poverty rate is 31.7 per cent in a population of 40 million, according to government statistics released at the end of 2020.
“We demand a share of oil to each Iraqi citizen from now on until all our demands are met,” a white-turbaned man said, addressing protesters who gathered at the city’s Al Haboubi Square. The square was the centre of Nasiriyah's months-long pro-reform protests in late 2019 and early 2020, that began in Baghdad and engulfed the country.
The protesters waved Iraqi flags and held posters for those killed in clashes with security forces and Shiite militias since protests erupted. Some shouted: “With our souls and our blood, we will sacrifice for Iraq.”
The price increase comes only a few weeks before Ramadan, which normally means price increases for some food items.
"One of the things that affects the Iraqi market is the Russian-Ukrainian war,” shop owner Abu Karrar Al Fariji in Baghdad’s Jamila food market, told AP.
Mr Al Fariji said the price of a box of 24 one-litre bottles of Ukrainian cooking oil jumped from up to 48,000 Iraqi dinar (about $32) to 65,000 Iraqi dinar (about $44.50).
“This hardened the situation for citizens and negatively affected low-income people," he said.
Although Iraq produces cooking oil and flour, production depends heavily on importing raw materials from other countries such as Ukraine.
In an attempt to control prices and alleviate poverty, the Iraqi government approved some measures on Tuesday.
These include the suspension of customs duties on food products, basic consumer goods and construction materials. That decision will be reviewed after two months.
Iraq will also pay civil servants and pensioners whose income does not exceed one million dinars (almost $700) a monthly allowance of about $70.
The government also said that merchants who manipulate prices at the markets will be held accountable.