A car drives along a street of Basra, a major city in south Iraq. Photo by Sebastian Castelier
A car drives along a street of Basra in southern Iraq. Photo by Sebastian Castelier

Basra protests gather momentum and enter fourth day



Protests rocked southern Iraq on Wednesday for the fourth day in a row as anger over the lack of public services and high unemployment spilled out into the streets of Basra.

Demonstrators called on the central government to solve the existing problems, blaming Baghdad's political elite for their "inaction".

Tensions in the port city heightened after police opened fire on Sunday to disperse protesters blocking the road leading to West Qurna, home to one of the biggest oil fields in the country, killing one.

“Basra is facing a real electricity crisis which has compelled its citizens to go out and protest against constant electricity outages," Zahra Hamza, Basra's provincial council member, told reporters.

Baghdad's caretaker government, which is in flux following May's elections, said it will seek to increase water and electricity supplies to the city.

"Since 2017 Basra has received and will continue to receive the highest share of electricity due to its rising temperatures and humidity, we will also increase funding to the city to solve the issue, " Saad Al Hadithi, Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi's spokesman told The National.

The government set up a committee that will visit Basra on Wednesday “to investigate the killing of a civilian and to meet the demands of the protesters," Mr Al Hadithi said.

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A protester and members of the Bani Mansour tribe was killed and dozens of others were injured since protests erupted on Saturday.

"We want his killer to face justice and are demanding the dismissal of Basra's chief of security, the protests will carry on until our demands are met," Omar Abed, a 25-year-old shop owner told The National.

Demonstrators say protests will continue, while the interior ministry is set to open an investigation of its own into the killing of the demonstrator.

"The prime minister gave clear instructions to security officials to ensure that all demonstrators are protected. Weapons must only be used in cases that threaten the lives of civilians," Mr Al Hadithi said.

Officially, unemployment in Iraq, where the under-24s represent six out of 10 of the population, is running at 10.8 per cent.

Local tribes in Iraq, where foreign oil companies are developing the OPEC nation's vast energy reserves, periodically protest to urge companies to provide jobs and other benefits.

“What is happening in Basra is a real tragedy. Unemployment, poverty, famine, lack of clean water, the list goes on,” shop-owner Mr Abed said.

“If the government continues to neglect our demands than there will be a humanitarian catastrophe,” he warned.

Stability is vital in the port as oil exports account for over 95 per cent of government revenues.

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