Politics & Economics

Unrest grips Iraq as protests spread to numerous provinces

Iraq

Protests erupting in the south of Iraq over poor economic conditions during the extreme summer heat have spread to other parts of the country.

Protests are ongoing in provinces across southern Iraq as unrest over corruption, economic conditions and the provision of services continues into its second week.

Over the weekend, protests were reported in nine other provinces apart from Basra, the initial source of the protests, including, Babil, Dhi Qar, Maysan, Najaf, Qadisiya, Wasit, Karbala, Baghdad and Muthanna.

The further spread of these protests has coincided with an increasing level of violence, with protesters setting government buildings alight, blocking entrances to oil fields, and storming the Najaf Airport.

In Basra, where the protests first began eleven days ago, protesters blocked the roads leading to the Provincial Council’s offices on Saturday and an office belonging to the Badr Organisation was set on fire, prompting security forces to open fire on protesters in a bid to disperse them. As a result of the unrest, the security forces in the city of Basra enforced a curfew.

Also over the weekend, six protesters and 36 police officers were wounded in the city of Nasiriyah after people tried to storm the house of Yahiya Nasseri, the Governor of Dhi Qar.

Eight civilians and 13 members of Iraq’s security forces were injured in separate clashes in Maysan.

The increasing levels of violence have forced the Iraqi National Security Service to deploy nine battalions from the Counter Terrorism Services (CTS) and the Rapid Response Forces to Basra to protect government facilities, oil fields and border crossings.

Reinforcements from the CTS were also deployed to Najaf and other provinces in southern Iraq. The National Security Service also cut internet services and blocked social media access on Saturday in a bid to stem the spread of the protests.

In response to the protesters’ demands, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with community leaders in Najaf on Monday in an attempt to quell the unrest and find solutions to the ongoing crisis.

Abadi ordered the release of 3.5 trillion dinars ($3 billion) for electricity, water and health and numerous other infrastructure projects in Basra.

While recognising that the protesters’ had legitimate demands, given the limited availability of basic services in southern cities, Abadi called for peaceful protests and for the cessation of attacks on oil facilities, which form the backbone of Iraq’s economy.

Image: AFP/Ahmed al-Rubaye