Who’s doing the killing in Basra?

Many have thought that the threats and assassinations have silenced citizen protests in Basra. They are wrong.
Sunday 30/09/2018
People gather at the scene of the assassination of Iraqi activist Soad al-Ali in Basra, on September 25. (AP)
The price of courage. People gather at the scene of the assassination of Iraqi activist Soad al-Ali in Basra, on September 25. (AP)

While members of the political class in Iraq are fighting each other for positions, the number of poisoning cases from polluted waters in Basra governorate reached 95,000 and is still rising, said Mahdi al-Tamimi, head of the Basra office of Iraq’s High Commission for Human Rights.

The water situation is extremely bad in Basra. In some areas, such as Abul Khasib, the sewer system is polluting drinking water. Basra is not alone in this disaster. Residents of Wasit governorate and Diwaniyah in Al-Qadisiyyah governorate have protested loudly about polluted water.

The head of the advisory council in the cabinet admitted that the water crisis in Basra is so enormous that it is difficult to solve. He said that “funds earmarked for Basra are sizeable but the problem lies in bad planning and mismanagement in addition to spending the funds on temporary repairs rather than on tackling the problem.”

In exchange for the public funds spent on solving the water crisis in Basra, political blocs loyal to Iran have increased the supply of bullets to their sectarian militias in preparation for a wide assassination campaign against protesters. The latest victim in their campaign of terror was well-known activist Suad al-Ali, who was shot in the head by unknown gunmen near a restaurant in Basra. Her husband was wounded in the attack.

The most violent assassination in Basra was that of Jabbar Karam al-Bahadli, defence attorney of the Basra protesters. He was shot 15 times while in front of al-Hadi police station. Many activists in Basra and Dhi Qar in southern Iraq have been gunned down. Some activists in Baghdad have narrowly escaped assassination attempts by gunmen using silencers.

The common denominator among these assassins and kidnappers is that they are “unknown.” Their victims were all human rights activists who had the courage to stand by the demonstrators in Basra against the central government. All the protesters wanted was clean drinking water, electricity and jobs for the inhabitants of the oil-rich Iraqi governorate. That was their crime.

Along with the terror of the assassinations, an additional psychological war was begun by the pro-Iranian Dawa Party. Rumours have spread threatening anyone who dares oppose the religious parties or their militias with certain and swift death or with “disappearing” him or members of his family.

The threats were followed by such acts and the terror campaign produced results. Many protesters and poets backed down and expressed regrets, begging forgiveness from the religious parties and their militias.

Persistent rumours in Basra claim that militias loyal to Iran, particularly Asaib al-Haq and Hezbollah al-Nujaba, were given hit lists of names of activists from the Iranian consulate in Basra. Rumours are that 14 of those named have been kidnapped.

On examining these reports, it isn’t easy to miss the connecting thread to Iran. In Basra and elsewhere, there are people gathering information on the leaders of the protests. They are looking for the protesters who set fire to the Iranian consulate.

Perhaps the most obvious sign of Iran’s domination of Iraq was the 30 Iranian police vehicles freely roaming the streets of Karbala. Iran’s excuse for the presence of Iranian police in Karbala was flimsy: They were there to protect Iranian visitors in the city.

The cabinet’s chief adviser was right when he said the situation in Basra was disastrous. The chief medical officer in Basra reported that the number of victims in Basra suffering from poisoning, intestinal pains, rashes and diarrhoea was steadily rising, especially in Abul Khasib. He said the government’s solutions have “done nothing” for Basra’s neighbourhoods and that most cases of poisoning were among women and children and Basra’s Medical District lacks medicines.

To make matters worse in Iraq, figures released by the Iraqi Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation indicate that this year’s strategic grains harvests were disastrously small because of water shortages. The ministry said there was a 45.3% drop in the overall grain crops. The wheat crop dropped 26.8% from last year.

The ministry blamed “poor rainfall and shortage of water” but the real cause is the stark failure of the government because the entire political class was busy fighting for positions.

Many have thought that the threats and assassinations have silenced citizen protests in Basra. They are wrong. Basra will not cower. Basra will spark popular protests all over Iraq. Hundreds of Basra inhabitants marched in the city centre in recent days, demanding basic services and calling on the United Nations to intervene in the water crisis.

In response, the new speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mohammed al-Halbousi said he will form a committee of members of the parliament and local officials from Basra to discuss the situation at a parliament session soon. Halbousi promised that “in case there was evidence of mismanagement of the water mains feeding Basra, whoever is responsible will be relieved of his duties.”