Jul 17, 2018

The big picture: Iraqis take to the streets to demand basic services

A protestor stands next to a burning tire, with his hands raised gesturing the peace sign.

An Iraqi protestor in Basra, Iraq. Photo: Haidar Mohammed Ali/AFP/Getty Images

Protests that began in Basra over a lack of basic services and job opportunities have spread to several cities in Iraq and left at least eight dead and dozens injured, CNN reports.

The big picture: Saad Jawad of London School of Economics told Al Jazeera that unless people see "concrete improvements in their lives that satisfy their demands — improvements in electricity, employment, services and actions against corrupt officials — they won't stand down."

Why they're protesting

  • Basra is the "oil hub and Shia heartland" of Iraq, per the Independent, and holds 70% of Iraq's oil reserves, yet it suffers from crumbling infrastructure, unemployment and poverty.
  • The region "has long been neglected" by the government, starting with dictator Saddam Hussein, per Reuters.
  • Demonstrators are also fed up with political parties; one protestor, Abdulrahman Mohammed, told the Washington Post: "We've had enough of these parties who put Iranian interests ahead of us and treat the people like wood to burn when they need money."

Where things stand

  • In addition to the eight killed, dozens have been injured and hundreds arrested, per Al Jazeera. Police officers and security forces are among those injured.
  • Protestors have targeted "government buildings, branches of political parties and powerful Shiite militias and stormed the international airport in the holy city of Najaf," Reuters reports.
  • The government cut off internet access, the Washington Post reports, in efforts to "contain further violence."

What they're saying

  • Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced a financial investment for the region worth $3 billion, Al Jazeera reports, pledging spending on infrastructure like schools and housing, as well as other services.
  • Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's top Shiite cleric, sided with the demonstrators, saying there is an "extreme lack of public services," NBC reports.
  • A woman who lost her son in the protests, Um Faten, told CNN: "We are fed up with the situation — our sons had no other solution but to go out and protest. I want my children to live a normal life, but it seems we are losing hope that things will get better here."
  • Protestor Murtadha Rahman, told Reuters: "I live in a place which is rich with oil that brings billions of dollars while I work in collecting garbage to desperately feed my two kids. I want a simple job, that's my only demand...I won't go even if you kill me."
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