Basra unrest points to another Iran-Iraq showdown

Basra is the main gate to Iraq and the main warehouse for its tangible and non-tangible wealth.
Sunday 16/09/2018
Protesters raise the Iraqi flag at the gate of the Iranian Consulate building before storming it in Basra, on September 7.                                                  (AP)
Angry city. Protesters raise the Iraqi flag at the gate of the Iranian Consulate building before storming it in Basra, on September 7. (AP)

Basra is not any old remote city in Iraq, a city that can be ignored or not feared when it gets angry. It is the main gate to Iraq and the main warehouse for its tangible and non-tangible wealth. Basra holds Iraq’s oil, its grains and dates, its trade and tourism. It is Iraq’s historic source of art, philosophy, literature, poetry and music. It is the city of al-Jahiz, al-Farahidi, al-Farabi, Ibn Sirin, Abu al-Aswad al-Du’ali and Badr Shakir al-Sayyab.

When Basra revolts, the whole of Iraq — perhaps the entire region — should pay attention, because after the smoke of the rebellion dissipates, there will be one of two possible Iraqs: an Iraq filled with justice, progress, maturity and true patriotism or an Iraq filled with destruction and desolation, a fate like Syria’s.

Syria, too, was once a flourishing civilised country until Bashar Assad and his Iranian protectors laid their hands on it. What is happening in Basra today is like what happened in Daraa a few years ago.

Iraqis and foreigners alike will testify that Basrans have been known for centuries for generosity of hand and of heart and for their eloquence. Most of us Iraqis are tolerant, hardworking and fun loving but when the patience of these peaceful citizens runs out, they can turn very violent and stubborn and will attack government buildings, block Iraq’s unique gate to the sea as well as the main road to Baghdad and burn the offices of the political parties loyal to Iran.

To bring out all of this pent up anger in these otherwise patient peace-loving citizens, something very serious must be rotten in the state of Iraq.

Undoubtedly, millions of Iraqis in the central and southern provinces have seen their lives go to the dogs and their daily sufferings pile up because of the incredible corruption of the Iraqi governments since the US invasion. Not only did these incompetent governments fail to provide Iraqi citizens with the minimum requirements in water, electricity, air, health and food services, they siphoned off huge fortunes in public funds.

Citizens in the south and centre endured the oppression, arrogance and impunity of the sectarian militias and their parties. The plight of Basra, however, was ten-fold that of other cities.

Basra streets are filled with garbage, vagrant animals and stagnant foul water. Its water sources are polluted and the salty water of Shatt al-Arab has invaded its aquifers. Thousands of its inhabitants are unemployed or getting poorer by the day. Epidemic outbreaks and insecurity lurk at every corner. Yet, 85% of Iraq’s oil is from Basra but its revenues never reach the city because they are stolen by the parties in power.

Much of the pollution plaguing Basra and Shatt al-Arab comes from Iran. Iran has turned the fragile coast into an uncontrolled landfill. It has also dammed and changed the course of the Karun River, which used to supply Shatt al-Arab with significant quantities of fresh water. Basra’s inhabitants repeatedly asked the government to investigative the region’s environmental disaster, to no avail.

Basrans have reached the point of no return. They’ve torched the offices of the Badr Organisation, Dawa Party, al-Asa’ib, al-Nakhil Radio, the Islamic Supreme Council and Iraqiya Channel. Weapons have suddenly invaded the streets of Basra. Victims have fallen and the state security forces have lost control of the city. Now that Baghdad and other Iraqi provinces have experienced similar uprisings, we can predict some of the outcomes of the confrontations in Basra.

Iran knows it is the intended target of the unrests in Basra. It has no choice but to intervene directly in Basra using its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and police to rescue its proxy parties and militias. Iran will not tolerate defeat in Iraq.

General Saad Ma’in, the official spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, denied “the existence of an agreement between Iraq and Iran allowing the Iranian police forces to enter Iraqi territory.” However, the ministry is dominated by the Iran-backed Badr Organisation and Ma’in’s statements might turn out to be a test balloon or an implied threat to those concerned.

Basra’s uprising has pitted Iraq and Iran, and perhaps other countries from within and without the region, in a fateful confrontation that is bound to end in one of two ways. Iran will be forced to leave Iraq as soon as possible to limit its losses and will finally let the Iraqi people choose their own regime and their own government.

However, since we know that this is almost impossible for Iran to do, the second outcome is bound to be another Iraq-Iran war, perhaps different from the previous one but a war nonetheless. Like in the previous war, Iran is sure to have lots of hidden enemies lurking in the shadows.

Just a few days ago, people in Basra were chanting “I will live and die for Basra.” When the war with Iran breaks out, they will chant again for Basra’s sake and for Iraq’s sake. Basra will continue to exist and resist and so will Iraq with it.