On September 9th, calm returned to the oil-producing Iraqi city of Basra after a week of renewed violent protests during the country’s post-election political transition.
For five days, protesters had flooded the streets, clashing with security forces and torching the provincial headquarters, the Iranian consulate and the offices of armed groups. The protests left 12 demonstrators killed. The total is 27 victims, including the ones killed during the protests in July.
In response to the violence, on September 8th, Iraqi security forces deployed on the streets of Basra, which brought calm. Cited by VOA News, the head of Basra security, General Jamil al Shammari, said his men had been trying not to attack protesters, but that it was imperative to protect strategic government installations. Shammari also said the protests had not been peaceful and claimed they had been infiltrated by groups trying to cause violence.
Reinforcing Shammari’s claim of violent groups infiltrating the protests. On the morning of September 8th, several rockets were fired at Iraq’s Basra airport, following two nights of violent protests. The US Consulate in Basra is located in close proximity to the airport. An unnamed local official at Basra International Airport, cited by AP, said three rockets were fired at the airport, adding that there had been no casualties or injuries and the attack did not disrupt flight traffic. It is yet unclear who carried out the attack.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Basra on September 10th. He met with officials and tribal leaders in the provincial capital. Abadi kept his statements in Basra to a minimum. “Attacking a consulate or diplomatic post is unacceptable,” he said.
Basra was at the center of protests which began in July, which spread across the country. Demonstrators demanded jobs and rallied against high-level corruption. Following the promise of a new government, protests stopped. However, protests in Basra flared once more after pollution in the city’s water supply left more than 30,000 people in hospital, according to numbers cited by Al Jazeera. There were concerns that sustained violence could also disrupt oil production in Basra, home to 70 percent of Iraq’s petroleum reserves, and at the country’s main seaport of Umm Qasr.
The protests have led to a political crisis, with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s hopes of being re-elected for a second term have all but ended. The two largest electoral blocs in Iraq called on Abadi to resign on September 8th after parliament held an emergency session to discuss the unrest in Basra. “We demand the government apologize to the people and resign immediately,” Hassan al-Aqouli, secretary-general of the Sairoon Coalition, said following the session. The coalition is composed of the Conquest Coalition and Sairoon, the winner of Iraq’s recent parliamentary elections.
As VOA News reported Abadi acknowledged the unrest in Basra, however defended his conduct in parliament. He described the unrest as “political sabotage” and asserted the crisis over public services was being exploited for political gain. His hope for a second term is all but gone, both allies and opposition blame him for the unrest in the city.
As reported by VOA News, Iraq is still without a new government nearly four months after national elections in which no party won a majority. Rival parliamentary blocs – one seen as friendlier to the U.S. and the other closely allied with Iran – each claim to have assembled a governing coalition.
VOA News also reported that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Basra’s governor have traded blame for the crisis.
Iraq’s government has apparently attempted to answer the growing demand for public services, jobs and endemic corruption, as well as the financial crisis fueled by “diminished oil revenues and the costly war against the Islamic State group,” as reported by VOA.
One thing is for certain – the forming of a government in Iraq that can at least begin dealing with the population’s problem is of utmost importance and needs to be handled immediately. This evidently must happen without Abadi in the Prime Minister’s seat.