A wave of protests that have rocked Iraq entered a second week on Monday as the government battles to contain mounting anger over the poor quality of public services, corruption and unemployment as the country is gripped by political paralysis, Financial Times reported.
Additional security forces were deployed across Iraq’s nine southern provinces over the weekend and the internet was blocked after the protests escalated with demonstrators attacking government buildings and political offices.
About 200 protesters gathered at the entrance to the Siba gasfield in Basra province, the country’s oil hub, on Monday, Reuters reported. Dozens of men and women also gathered for a protest in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square demanding reform and in solidarity with the demonstrations in the south of the country.
The unrest over joblessness and water and electricity shortages underlines the fragility of the state of Opec’s second-largest oil producer, 15 years after the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein. The protests come two months after Iraqis voted in parliamentary elections and will undermine prime minister Haider al-Abadi’s chances of securing a second term.
The political alliance led by Mr Abadi, the west’s favoured candidate, came third at the polls, which were marred by a turnout of about 44 per cent, a record low that highlighted Iraqis’ deepening disillusionment with their leaders.
But given the fragmented nature of the political landscape, no group came close to securing a majority and the prime minister was hoping to retain his post in the next administration as politicians haggle over the formation of a governing coalition.
It typically takes months for Iraq’s rival leaders to reach an agreement on a new government, and the process this year has been complicated by allegations of fraud and a decision to manually recount ballots in some provinces. The political turmoil has raised tension in the country and exacerbated Iraqis’ frustrations.
“Nobody called for these demonstrations, people just broke into the streets and they are protesting . . . the deterioration of the situation on different levels, and this is what makes it really serious, and dangerous even,” said Dhiaa al-Asadi, head of the political office of Moqtada al Sadr, the populist Shia cleric.
The Sairoon alliance led by Mr Sadr emerged as the surprise victor at the May 12 poll after it won 54 of the parliament’s 329 seats, according to provisional results. Mr Sadr, who is not running for office himself, has promised to form a government of technocrats.
Renad Mansour, an Iraqi analyst at Chatham House, said many Iraqis had lost faith in elections bringing change, causing them to take their grievances to the streets.
“This can be threat to the whole political process. They want to fight the system,” he said. “They know that Basra sits on most of Iraq’s wealth, and their basic needs can’t be met.”
Ahmed Waheed, an activist in Basra, said the protests were smaller in the city on Monday after the security forces beat demonstrators and used water cannon and tear gas to disperse demonstrators overnight. He said people’s demands varied from protesting against foreign oil companies’ failure to hire locals to the poor quality of water.
“Right now, everyone who has a problem is protesting it as a main priority and this is not helping the main causes,” he said. “Almost all share the frustration with the electricity situation.” The internet was working on Monday but social media sites such as Facebook were blocked.
The protests began in Basra where electricity supplies are cut every three hours and much of the water is undrinkable, Mr Asadi said, at time when summer temperatures soar above 40 degrees Celsius They then spread across southern Iraq, including to Najaf, where protesters on Sunday stormed the airport, causing airlines to halt flights to the city.
Iraqis had been hoping to rebuild after the government declared victory over Isis at the end of 2017, but many people say their living standards have worsened. In the south, families complain that while their men went off to fight Isis in the country’s north, their region was marginalised and services deteriorated. Despite the south’s oil riches, it is plagued by widespread poverty and unemployment, and Basra has endured waves of crime and tribal violence.