While Baghdad remains the epicentre of the protests across Iraq, in the south, the port of Um Qasr in Basra has emerged as a focal point of protests. Many locals feel that the vast wealth going through the port has done little to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis.
Across Iraq, protests against political corruption and lack of economic opportunities continue. Despite numerous reform offers by the Iraqi Government, as well as violent response by security forces, protesters have, so far, remained undeterred.
Although the city of Baghdad is the epicentre of the protests, major southern cities such as Basra have also witnessed major protests. In Basra, the port of Um Qasr has emerged as the focal point for protesters, resulting in its repeated closure and reopening. Why has the port emerged as the focal point of the protests in Basra?
The port of Um Qasr was first established in 1930 and is located near the Kuwaiti border. It is Iraq’s biggest and most-important port and its main gateway to the global sea routes.
Today, 80% of Iraqi imports such as grain and non-petroleum oils come through Um Qasr. The port also serves as a hub for Iraq’s oil exports, with the nearby Nasiriya refinery supplying the majority of the oil that goes through Um Qasr.
Although the port suffered from structural decay and neglect over the course of the 1990s and 2000s, it has been the subject of various trade and economic agreements intended to improve Iraq’s economy.
In 2018, Iraq and Saudi Arabia discussed the establishment of a direct shipping line between the King Abdulaziz Port in Dammam and Um Qasr.
Since the October 2019 protests across Iraq started, protesters in Basra have targeted the Um Qasr port, as well as blocking the road between the port and the Nasiriya refinery.
The blockades enacted by the protesters have resulted in the port getting shut down repeatedly, resulting in disruption to both imports and exports.
The Spokesperson for the Iraqi Prime Minister recently warned that as much as $6 Billion in revenue was lost from the port due to repeated shut-downs.
For the protesters, however, these warnings mean little, as they feel that the vast wealth going through the port has done little to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis including those in Basra which has already witnessed violent protests in 2018 due to complaints relating to the lack of clean water, electricity and services.