Basra’s demonstrators to continue protests ‘until demands are met’
BASRA, Iraq - Protesters in the southern Iraqi city of Basra said the government failed to respond to demands for better living conditions and resumed demonstrations that call for radical change.
Chanting in front of the Basra governorate building, Sadiq Jaafar Mohammed, a clan leader, declared: “Demonstrations will continue until all demands are met.”
“The government gave us zero services while we were giving blood in return of drinkable, clean water,” he said.
The protesters are also demonstrating against Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s nominee to head the Interior Ministry, Iran-backed politician Falih Alfayyadh, whom they accuse of corruption. The Iraqi parliament is divided on Alfayyadh’s candidacy and has not yet approved his bid for the ministerial post.
“What we want is a man to run Iraq away of Iranian influence while being patriotic. A government that cannot benefit its people has to resign. They deceived us with their slogans before the elections but then they shocked us even more when they did nothing after elections,” said Jaafar.
Some protesters mimicked demonstrators in France who wore yellow vests. Standing in front of the Basra governorate building wearing a yellow vest was Ali Kareem Talib.
“The idea of wearing a yellow vest is to attract both local and international media attention to what’s happening in Basra and to send a message to the government that out protests are peaceful,” said Talib.
“They shot at us with live ammunition. SWAT forces beat me all over my body. They detained five other protesters. Demonstrations will be continuing because the authorities do not understand that we are revolutionary young people.”
Mustafa al-Asadi said he saw Iraqi security forces beat female protesters.
“I felt sad when I saw SWAT forces hitting protesters, including women,” Asadi said. “As an Iraqi citizen, the government must provide me with a decent life, which includes clean water, security, around the clock electricity and jobs. Political parties who run the country divide Iraq’s worth between them and give us nothing.”
“I am a jobless young person but I’ve collected money to buy a yellow outfit to attend the protests,” Asadi said.
Iraqi Finance Minister Fuad Hussein visited Basra on December 3 for talks with Basra Governor Assad al-Eidani. Protesters tried to reach the hotel conference room in which they met.
Some protesters called for resignations.
“We demand the lay off of the governor and the head of the Governorate Council because they failed to give us our rights. There is a dominance from the Islamic parties on all sides of the state. We need to change the system,” said activist Kadhim al-Sahlani.
“We want the city that we deserve but what a shame! We breathe an air produced by the oil and water is like a poison while we live in one of the richest cities in the world,” Sahlani said.
During a demonstration December 5, SWAT forces arrested five journalists, including videographer Dawood Salman Yassin.
“I and four other journalists were arrested by SWAT,” he said. “They put us for one hour in the back of a car then they took us to another car and drove us to police headquarters, in the intelligence section.
“Along the road to the police headquarters, officers were kicking us. They kicked my neck and my back. I told them that I am a journalist but they replied ‘you may be a vandal, not a journalist,’ The SWAT team took my camera by force and threw insults at me.”
Some activists fled to Turkey after being threatened by Iran-backed militias.
Mohammed Jawad, who is among those who fled to Turkey, said: “I would love to go back to Basra but the militias will kill me if return. I use social media to support the protesters in Basra. We live abroad but our hearts are with them. I also use social media as a weapon to pressure the government and achieve our demands.”
Rights campaigners called on the government to punish security forces who used violence against protesters.
“The Human Rights Office in Basra called on the central government to shoulder all responsibility for the attacks on the demonstrators,” said Mehdi al-Tamimi, head of the human rights council in Basra.
Nasiriya-based social media activist Yousif Raheem said he tried to pass messages from the protesters to the outside world.
“I wanted to attract the attention of foreign journalists because English speakers are not many in Iraq. I translate what protesters say and what citizen reporters say to the world,” he said.
“The reason behind this is that the Iraqi government is trying to draw a picture of the protesters as vandals supported by foreign powers.”