Iraq: Abadi dismisses head of Basra's military over death of protesters

Hospitals low on medical supplies receive thousands of patients on a daily basis

Ahmed Malik, 32, lies inside a hospital after being poisoned by water pollution in Basra, Iraq September 13, 2018. Basra residents say salt seeping into the water supply has made it undrinkable and sent hundreds to a hospital. Picture taken September 13, 2018.  REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani
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Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi dismissed the head of Basra's military operations on Thursday as officials in Baghdad failed to respond to the southern city's water crisis and months of deadly demonstrations that have killed dozens.

Mr Al Abadi's decision came hours ahead of a scheduled parliamentary session that was expected to vote on Jamal Al Shammari's possible dismissal.

"The premier has orders that Basra Operations' commander, Jamal Al Shammari, will now take on the position of President of the Defence University for Military Studies," a statement by Mr Al Abadi's office said.

Meetings, held in parliament on Wednesday, discussed the dismissal of Basra's Minister of Health, the Minister of Water Resources, and the Minister of Municipalities and Public Works due to their lack of management, Zaid Al Zeyadi, an Iraqi official said.

The prime minister has been criticised for being slow to react to the mounting scandal that has seen a staggering 100,000 patients admitted to hospitals over water poisoning cases.

US Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman announced on Thursday additional support to Baghdad and Basra's government to respond to short-term water emergency needs, and to assist in the development of a long-term water response plan.

Since July, residents of the southern oil province have protested against the municipality's poor financial management, after it failed to provide adequate public services. Some say this is entrenched in corruption.

The unrest has also spread to attacks on foreign installations including the Iranian consulate which was burned by rioters, and the US consulate which has been targeted by rocket fire.

Mr Al Abadi said last week that corruption may have played a part in the southern province's escalating health crisis, and launched an investigation.

He requested the Integrity Commission to launch an investigation into the delays that have affected a number of infrastructure projects in Basra and other southern provinces, referring to the government body tasked with fighting corruption.

Hospitals in Basra are receiving between 1,500 to 2,000 patients a day, Alaa Hashim, Basra's Health Ministry spokesman, told The National.

More than 95,000 people have been admitted to hospitals in the city, the spokesman said.

At the Al Sadr Teaching Hospital in Basra's centre, an influx of patients line up in the crowded corridors, suffering from stomach-related problems.

"We received up to 300 patients a day," Mohammed Rifaat, head of the emergency department, told The National.

“I've been the manager of this hospital for more than seven years, and I’ve never seen anything this like,” he said, adding that the hospital is running low on medical supplies.

Next to a family mourning the death of a loved one, a woman dressed in black asks for assistance, her son, also suffering from pains, lays down next to her on a stretcher.

“Where are the doctors? Who can help me?” she screamed.

The hospital's administration says it has doubled the amount of doctors, yet the numbers are not enough to treat the surge in patients.

“The hospital needs an additional 1,600 doctors to function properly,” the hospital's director, Falih Al Gazgouz, said

Kadmia Wadi, 75, drinks a bottled water with difficulty, whilst laying down on a bed.

“I feel intense pain in my stomach and I have diarrhea. I also suffer from cardiac disorders, and water poisoning will be the end of me,” Ms Wadi said.

Salt has seeped into Basra's water supply, according to residents, making it undrinkable and forcing thousands into hospitals that are now overburdened.

Yousif Hussein, who is poisoned for the second time in two weeks’ time, blames Basra's faulty water plants for the cause of the crisis.

A report conducted by assistant professor of environmental pollution at Basra University, Shurki Al Hassan, revealed that water salinity in the Shatt Al Arab river is 22 times higher than the international health standards.

“I was poisoned after drinking one cup of water," Mr Al Hussein said.

In 2013, Basra's province council used to receive Dh28 million a month to operate 13 hospitals across the governorate from Baghdad's central government.

It now receives Dh4.5 million, according to Basra's health ministry.

Standing in front of Basra's provincial building, Abu Oday, a 63-year-old protester compared the Shatt Al Arab river to ISIS.

"It's poisonous," he angrily said.


Read more:

Basra hospitals overwhelmed as water poisoning cases near 100,000

Basra residents accuse Iran-backed militias of intimidation

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