Angry Iraqis protest poor services
Baghdad - Thousands of Iraqis, angry at insufficient or low-quality basic state services, took to the streets in demonstrations spread over several days demanding the government improve living conditions.
Surprisingly, Shia Muslims, who form the bedrock of popular support for Iraq’s government, were the driving force behind the protests that began in mid-July in Baghdad and spread to other provinces, mostly in the Shia-dominated south and parts of the north.
Despite the intensity, it was unlikely that the so far peaceful, but noisy, protests would lead to the collapse of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s cabinet, which took office in August 2014.
“There’s a general consensus to give Abadi time to make the improvements he promised to the population in terms of better services and infrastructure, ending state corruption, fighting Islamic State (ISIS) militants and reviving the economy,” said Khalil Ibrahim, an economics professor at the University of Mosul.
“These protests are meant to vent popular anger at the existing poor services, such as rampant power cuts that are aggravating a sweltering heat wave, but it is highly unlikely that they will lead to toppling the government,” Ibrahim told The Arab Weekly in an interview.
Iraq produces about 12,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity a day from fuel-run power stations across the country, while the total daily demand from households is 20,000 MW.
Electrical engineering Professor Ali Bakri said although Iraq has approached Chinese and Korean firms to help build more power stations, the “end result will be futile”.
“The government must first rehabilitate the existing network, which is malfunctioning because of continued military operations, militant violence and theft,” Bakri said.
He rebuked the government for its supply of four to ten hours a day of power to Iraqi homes. “It’s not that the current isn’t available 24/7, the distribution is random and doesn’t follow a regular or set programme whereby people would know when to expect the cut and when power will resume,” he said.
The protests began sporadically in mid-July in Baghdad over power shortages, which Iraqis say are exacerbating a heat wave that swept across the Middle East and North Africa in late July and early August.
The demonstrations picked up July 29th, when some 300 railway employees cut the main train line to Baghdad to protest delays in receiving wages, which were due to be paid on July 23rd.
In central Baghdad, on the night of July 31st, hundreds of people gathered to protest severe power outages, an enduring problem Iraqis blame on government corruption.
On August 1st, Iraqis demonstrated over the quality of water in the southern city of Basra. About 500 people, waving banners and Iraqi flags, protested in front of the governor’s office to demand a solution to the long-running problem of salty tap water.
“We want the governor and the provincial council out because they are liars and only make empty promises,” said one of the protesters, oilfield worker Hameed Basrawi.
“They keep promising to end the electricity cuts but things are getting worse. The temperatures, with the current heat wave exceed 55 degrees and we only receive electricity for four hours a day.”
When the governor’s deputy went out to hear their demands, demonstrators pelted him with plastic water bottles and insisted on seeing the governor.
Nameer Jassim, 42, an employee at the South Oil Co, said Basra residents were increasingly frustrated at their region’s inability to capitalise on its massive oil wealth.
“Basra is bankrolling the whole country, but we do not even have suitable water for drinking,” Jassim said.
A port city in southern Iraq, Basra has some of the most significant oilfields in the country, which sits atop the world’s second largest proven oil reserves after Saudi Arabia. Basra’s oil output accounts for most of the more than 3 million barrels of oil Iraq exports every day.
Yet the region remains underdeveloped and suffers from chronic power outages, poor water quality, uncollected waste, poor road infrastructure and a lack of urban planning. All that has led to a growing number of Basra’s residents calling for autonomy.