Protests erupted in Basra on July 8 and are now spreading to other Iraqi cities with no sign of ending soon.
The social unrest that has overwhelmed the oil-rich region in the south of Iraq has resulted in the death of seven people, dozens of injuries, and hundreds of arrests. On Monday, the protests expanded to Iraq’s eastern provinces of Diyala and Nasiriyah.
In Baghdad, the protestors headed to the fortified Green Zone, where the key official institutions, including the U.S and U.K. embassies, are located. This is the second time protesters stormed the Green Zone in less than a month. Security forces opened fire on protestors causing dozens of injuries.
Two protestors were reported dead last Sunday in clashes between protestors and Iraqi security forces following the unrest that shook the southern region of Iraq. The two Iraqis died when security officers opened fire on some of the protestors allegedly attempting to break into a courthouse in Samawa, a town 280 kilometers southeast of Baghdad (between Baghdad and Basra).
Months after the Iraqi government declared the defeat of the Islamic State (IS), public attention seems to have shifted to the fight for social justice and better living conditions. Demands for jobs, public services, and security, as well as measures to put an end to corruption, are becoming a priority for Iraqis.
The protests first took place in the southern part of the country, an oil-rich region. Despite the abundant natural resources there, the people are suffering from poverty and the lack of opportunities to pull themselves out of difficult socio-economic circumstances.
“I live in a place which is rich with oil that brings in billions of dollars while I desperately work collecting garbage to feed my two children. I want a simple job, that’s my only demand,” Rahman, who was allegedly beaten by police, told Reuters.
The oil sector accounts for 89 percent of the state’s overall budget and 99 per cent of the country’s export revenues, but only accounts for 1 percent of local jobs, as companies insist on recruiting foreign workers. “These fields belong to us, yet we get nothing,” one of the protesters in Basra said.
The protestors blame their difficult circumstances and the lack of public services on the ruling elite who, following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, misused state power to reap the wealth of the nation for their own benefit.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi flew from Brussels, where he had attended the NATO summit, to Basra in an attempt to restore the calm. He pledged to invest $3 billion in the region.
After the escalation of protests against inadequate public services in Basra and other southern cities, Iraqi local media outlets reported that Iraqi Minister of Electricity Qasim al-Fahadawi, at the direction of PM Haider al-Abadi, is expected to go to Saudi Arabia to sign a joint deal with Riyadh. In the meantime, the Iraqi Minister of Interior warned that targeting government institutions would not go unanswered and that arrest warrants had been or would be issued against perpetrators.
Jordanian Royal Airlines said it had suspended four weekly flights to Najaf due to the deteriorating security situation at the city’s airport, which is reportedly occupied by protesters who are disrupting air traffic.
The government deployed security forces in the streets of the Shiite holy city of Najaf following the wave of anger at the dire lack of public services and pervasive corruption. The deployment followed after demonstrators had attacked the ruling Dawa party’s office and stormed the local airport. The Najaf protests started on Friday as an extension of the massive social unrest that had overwhelmed the southern parts of Iraq.
Top Iraqi Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani expressed solidarity with the protestors and their legitimate demands in a region that faces an “extreme lack of public services” at the peak of the summer heat.
Maqtada al-Sadr, a prominent Shiite leader, has also aligned himself with the “peaceful and spontaneous revolt,” condemning the use of force against protestors and denouncing the government “that kills its own children in cold blood.”
Supporters of al-Sadr, along with those from other opposition groups, also participated in the demonstrations to express their dissatisfaction over the government’s failure to crack down on corruption and to provide security to a country torn apart by violence.