BFF-62 Iraqis demand change as protests run into second week

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BFF-62

IRAQ-UNREST-DEMONSTRATION

Iraqis demand change as protests run into second week

BASRA, Iraq, July 16, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Protests in Iraq continued into
their second week Monday following days of clashes that left six people dead,
with demonstrators rallying to put social problems in the spotlight.

Months after Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State group,
attention has turned from the military battle to the fight for jobs and
public services.

Thousands of people rallied in fresh protests Monday in the eastern
province of Diyala and the southern city of Nasiriyah, according to AFP
correspondents.

Iraqis already made their dissatisfaction with their leaders known
through massive abstentions in May’s national elections, and now citizens are
taking to the streets to demand they see benefits from the country’s vast oil
reserves.

“These oil fields belong to us, yet we get nothing,” said Hussein Ghazi,
a 34-year-old protester in the port city of Basra.

The oil sector accounts for 89 percent of the state budget and 99 percent
of Iraq’s export revenues, but only one percent of jobs, as the majority of
posts are filled by foreigners.

Officially, 10.8 percent of Iraqis are jobless, while youth unemployment
is twice as high, in a country where 60 percent of the population is aged
under 24.

For the demonstrators, who have taken their campaign to the headquarters
of political parties across the southern provinces, setting some on fire and
ripping down political posters, corruption is central to their plight.

Following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the country’s new leaders
and public servants reaped the benefits of public funds and natural
resources, leaving citizens with only basic infrastructure, according to
protesters.

“We hear a lot of grand words, but we don’t see anything coming,” said
Basra demonstrator Aqil Kazem, an unemployed 27-year-old.

Chronic electricity cuts continue to leave Iraqis without respite from
summer temperatures, which during the protests have reached 50 degrees
Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

Iraqis have also suffered from water shortages this year from drought and
dams built by neighbouring countries.

– Promise of state cash –

Since the daily protests began on July 8 in Basra, six people have been
killed.

Those who died during demonstrations were shot, one by security forces at
the start of the protests and five by unknown shooters.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi flew into the city on Friday in an effort
to restore calm, a day later announcing investment worth $3 billion (2.6
billion euros) for Basra province.

He also pledged additional spending on housing, schools and services in
the oil-rich but neglected region.

As demonstrations continued, Abadi on Sunday met with security and
intelligence chiefs in Baghdad and warned them to be on alert “because
terrorists want to exploit any event or dispute”.

The prime minister also ordered security services not to use live fire
against unarmed civilians.

The unrest first erupted when security forces opened fire, killing one
person, as youths demonstrated in Basra demanding jobs and accusing the
government of failing to provide basic services including electricity.

Since then the protest movement has spread to provinces across the south:
Dhi Qar, Karbala, Maysan, Muthana and Najaf. On Saturday the internet was cut
across the country, as demonstrations threatened to spread. Authorities said
the shutdown was owing to maintenance work and Iraq was back online Monday.

Despite the internet blackout, hundreds of protesters in Baghdad closed a
highway on Sunday as they chanted slogans such as: “The people want to
overthrow the regime”.

The demonstrators have won the backing of Iraq’s top Shiite authority,
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has also called on them to refrain from
violence.

The latest rallies follow a 2015 protest movement against corruption and
the absence of public services, led mainly by nationalist Shiite cleric
Moqtada Sadr who won this year’s elections on an anti-graft ticket.

BSS/AFP/RY/1925 hrs