Protests Escalate Across Iraq
By Katie Buddenhagn – Syracuse, N.Y. (Citrus) – Protests which began this summer in Iraq’s Basra province have gained new momentum in recent weeks. The Republic of Iraq has been a slow developing democracy since the 2003 U.S. assisted the toppling of the Hussein regime. Since the institution of the new government, many Iraqis feel their sacrifices have gone unacknowledged.
Basra’s industry contributes a large portion of Iraqi wealth, as the province is home to most of the facilities of the second largest oil producer in OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries). However, in comparison to their contribution, Basra’s people see very little money allocated towards their infrastructure. Basra has suffered from poor infrastructure, a garbage crisis, electricity shortages, and high salinity in the water supply, which has led to public health problems as reported by the Washington Post. Additionally, families of Iraqi soldiers, many of whom were from Basra, have been faced with a disorganized and corrupt government, leaving them without the benefits to which they are entitled.
Another problem plaguing Iraq is unemployment, especially in Basra. The unemployment rate for youths was at 25.5 percent in 2016, which is also higher than the national average of 20.4 percent. The new constitution of Iraq endorses a market economy while also emphasizing a “right to work.” This policy leaves the state in flux between public and private employment. As a result, a paternalistic socialistic system persists, even as the country tries to cut public sector employment, leaving a large portion of Iraqi youth jobless and unsupported by a government that once controlled their whole lives.
To address these issues, the Basrawis have taken to the streets. Government buildings and party offices have been set ablaze. On September 8th, rockets were launched at and demolished the Basra International airport, which is also home to the US Consulate. While the protests have been contained to Basra and surrounding areas, the effects of an attack on the oil facilities in the city would be felt around the world. “We’ve seen protests around facilities and threats being made against oil companies. Some companies have taken their foreign workers out,” Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, told CNBC. “Production hasn’t been hit yet, but if you were to have one facility go down, you could lose upwards of 700,000 to 800,000 barrels of production, so it’s a big story to watch.”
So who can address the problems of the protestors? In July, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, pledged 3.5 trillion IQD, or just under 3 billion dollars, towards public infrastructure efforts in Basra. The state has also promised desalination plants, power plants, and 10,000 new jobs. However, with the formation of the new government still underway, political elites remain preoccupied, causing many of these plans to be stalled or halted over political dispute. This failed legislative effort has caused the religious establishment to once more intervene. On September 7th, the supreme religious authority, Sayed Ahmad al-Safi, announced in a televised statement that the religious establishment would take responsibility in addressing the water crisis, through the replacement of piping systems, and the provision of water to communities in need. However, even these efforts are short-term, and a deeper and more involved intervention will be required by the government to quell the protests.