Iraqis furious with militiamen aiding Iran while ignoring troubles at home

Many Iraqis blame the government for incompetence but they are levelling another accusation at the country’s establishment: favouring Iran.
Sunday 21/04/2019
Left to their fate. Vehicles sit at the edge of a flooded area in al-Qurna district in the Iraqi province of Basra, April 10.(AFP)
Left to their fate. Vehicles sit at the edge of a flooded area in al-Qurna district in the Iraqi province of Basra, April 10.(AFP)

BASRA - Iraqis are furious with militia leaders who volunteered to help neighbouring Iran deal with its flood crisis while ignoring troubles caused by rising water levels in their own country.

Hundreds of families were displaced across Iraq because of recent floods. Thousands of hectares of agriculture were affected.

The warning signs were there. Government officials said water levels in the country’s reservoirs and dams had reached historic heights, sparking concerns about the structures’ ability to withstand additional pressure.

The government sought to assure the public that the dams were not threatened with collapse but it did warn people against getting too close to river banks after weeks of rain swelled the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

More than 100 people drowned in Mosul when a ferry capsized on the Tigris in March. The ferry was dangerously overcrowded but high water levels made it harder for passengers to reach safety or be rescued by onlookers.

Many Iraqis blame the government for incompetence but they are levelling another accusation at the country’s establishment: favouring Iran.

“The government and militias have become the caretakers of Iran. I can’t even blame Iran for this. No Iraqi politician is putting Iraq first,” said Hussein Ali, a resident of the Salhia district near the Iraq-Iran border. “It is absolutely disgraceful when citizens in several cities are in need of help while others drive through to help Iran.”

Mohammed al-Shami, a resident of al-Qurna district in the Iraqi province of Basra, said floods damaged his agricultural lands and his friend’s fish farm.

“They (the militias and the governments) are dancing on our wounds. What a shame seeing them drive their loaded aid cars, passing through our city and going towards Iran but not our own city,” said Shami.

Habeeb Adel, also from al-Qurna, agreed. He described the militiamen as “mercenaries helping their motherland,” in a reference to Iran. “If you have no shame, do what you want but our country should be more important than Iran,” he said.

It did not take long for criticism to move from Iraqi streets to social media.

“After many Iraqi provinces were hit by Iran’s floods, I did not see any one of the politicians collect donations for the Iraqi affected regions. They rushed into Iran to provide relief,” said social media activist Bilal al-Obaidi.

Iraqi reactions appear to have prompted influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to weigh in. Posting on Twitter, he said Iraqi volunteers would be more than welcome to help Iran and any neighbouring country once Iraq’s needs are met. Until then, he urged Iraqis to help Iraq’s flooded areas.

The need for aid still stands because Iraq faces more flooding, which has caused loss of human life, damage to property, destruction of crops and loss of livestock in many Iraqi provinces.

“The floods hit the areas near rivers and waterways. Some agricultural lands in provinces like Basra, Maysan, Wasit and Diyala have been damaged,” said Aoun Diab Abdullah, spokesman for the Ministry of Water Resources.

More than ten people died due to the floods in the northern province of Saladin, added Abdullah.

A report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the harshest effects appeared to be in central and northern provinces of Iraq, primarily regions through which the Tigris River runs, and those adjacent to Iran.

The Iraqi Red Crescent Society said on its website that it had mobilised staff members and volunteers to provide medical relief, tents and food to face the expected torrents.

Iraqi volunteers are preparing to help. Salim Jasim Mohammed, head of Humanity Fingerprint Team in Saladin, said his team of 26 volunteers set up shelters to help people affected by floods.

“We transported the families who live near the Tigris River to the shelters after their houses sank. People lost everything but they got nothing from the government,” said Mohammed.

Ghassan Ali, an activist from Maysan province, said the government should pay financial compensation to those affected by the floods. So far, he said, aid has come from private volunteers.

“We call on the Iraqi government to address the problem and to compensate all those who are affected by floods and lost their property,” said Ali. “I and my friends went to the affected areas in Maysan to provide assistance in the form of tents, food items and so on.”

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