BFF-48 Iraq parliament holds emergency talks as Basra burns

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IRAQ-UNREST-PROTEST,UPDATE

Iraq parliament holds emergency talks as Basra burns

BAGHDAD, Sept 8, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Iraqi lawmakers met Saturday in
emergency session Saturday to discuss the crisis in public services in main
southern city Basra after 12 protesters were killed this week, the Iranian
consulate torched and its airport hit by rockets.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described the unrest as “political sabotage”
as he joined the session along with several ministers, charging that “the
question of public services” was being exploited for political ends.

His government has announced the allocation of an unspecified amount of
extra funds for Basra, although demonstrators say that billions of dollars in
emergency funding pledged in July has failed to materialise.

In a session attended by 172 deputies in the 329-seat house, Abadi traded
barbs with Basra’s governor, Asaad al-Eidani, who is also parliament speaker.

Basra has been rocked by protests since Tuesday, with demonstrators setting
ablaze government buildings, the Iranian consulate and the offices of pro-
Tehran militias and political parties.

The anger flared after the hospitalisation of 30,000 people who had drunk
polluted water, in an oil-rich region where residents have for weeks
complained of water and electricity shortages, corruption among officials and
unemployment.

At least 12 demonstrators have been killed and 50 wounded in clashes with
security forces, according to the interior ministry.

Hours before parliament met, four rockets fired by unidentified assailants
struck inside the perimeter of Basra airport, security sources said.

Staff at the airport, which is located near the US consulate in Basra, said
flights were not affected.

The attack came after a day of rage in the southern city where hundreds of
protesters stormed the fortified Iranian consulate, causing no casualties but
sparking condemnation.

Abadi said he had instructed security forces to “act decisively against the
acts of vandalism that accompanied the demonstrations”.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, which includes the army and police, vowed
a “severe” response with “exceptional security measures”, including a ban on
protests and group travel.

The foreign ministry called the attack on the consulate “an unacceptable
act undermining the interests of Iraq and its international relations”.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi denounced the “savage
attack”, Iran’s Fars news agency reported.

– ‘Neglect, corruption’ –

A spokesman for the consulate said that all diplomats and staff had been
evacuated from the building before the protesters attacked, and that nobody
was hurt.

Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi, said the consulate was “totally
demolished” and charged that “foreign agents close to the US, Zionists and
some Arab countries are trying to sabotage Iran-Iraq relations”, Iran’s ILNA
news agency reported.

The wave of protests first broke out in Basra in July before spreading to
other parts of the country, with demonstrators condemning corruption among
Iraqi officials and demanding jobs.

Since then at least 27 people have been killed.

“We’re thirsty, we’re hungry, we are sick and abandoned,” protester Ali
Hussein told AFP on Friday in Basra after another night of violence.

“Demonstrating is a sacred duty and all honest people ought to join.”

The anger on Basra’s streets was “in response to the government’s
intentional policy of neglect”, the head of the region’s human rights council
Mehdi al-Tamimi said.

Iraq has been struggling to rebuild its infrastructure and economy after
decades of bloody conflicts, including an eight-year war with Iran in the
1980s, the US-led invasion of 2003 and the battle against the Islamic State
group.

In August, the oil ministry announced that crude exports for August had hit
their highest monthly figure this year, with nearly 112 million barrels of
oil bringing $7.7 billion to state coffers.

Iraq, however, suffers from persistent corruption and many Iraqis complain
that the country’s oil wealth is unfairly distributed.

– Radical solutions –

Parliament said lawmakers would hear speeches by Abadi and key ministers
and discuss the water contamination crisis, the latest breakdown in public
services to spark public anger.

The meeting was demanded by populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose
political bloc won the largest number of seats in May elections although a
new government has yet to be formed.

Sadr has called on politicians to present “radical and immediate” solutions
at Saturday’s session or step down.

Two months ago, Abadi pledged a multi-billion dollar emergency plan to
revive infrastructure and services in southern Iraq, one of the country’s
most marginalised regions.

The premier is trying to hold onto his post in the next government and has
formed an alliance with Sadr, a former militia chief who has called for Iraq
to have greater political independence from both neighbouring Iran and the
United States.

BSS/AFP/MRI/1858 hrs