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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 October 2018

Iraq protests persist with government slow to offer solutions

Citizens of oil rich Basra plan to take tough action against government 

Iraqis shout slogans during ongoing protests in the southern city of Basra on August 5, 2018. AFP
Iraqis shout slogans during ongoing protests in the southern city of Basra on August 5, 2018. AFP

Iraqi protesters will not abandon demonstrations until their demands are met, a month into a wave of unrest over corruption and poor public services.

While demonstrations have shrunk, they persisted on Wednesday in front of Basra’s main gas field demanding employment, despite government pledges to pump billions of dollars into the oil-rich but neglected south.

Mohammed Al Tai, a former member of parliament for Basra, told The National that the protests will carry on because people simply have nothing to lose.

"This is the only way that the public can have their demands met, the government has lied several times since 2003", he said, adding lawmakers have deliberately neglected the public's needs.

"Protesters are jobless, there are no services and electricity,” Mr Al Tai said.

Basra has been crumbling from years of neglect and under-investment and since the unrest flared, some 14 people have been killed - including at least one person shot dead by security forces.

"We aim to make the protests bigger, reaching a wider audience, and to prepare for tough action against the ruling political parties," the former lawmaker said.

Iraq is ranked 169 of 180 states for corruption states in Transparency International’s corruption perception index, with the lowest being the most corrupt.

"Iraqis in Basra are watching the government take their farms, in the name of the law, to open oil wells, they are getting nothing in return except black smoke that's damaging the environment," Mr Al Tai said.

Anti-corruption rallies have also hit Baghdad's central Tahrir Square, but they have waned to just a few dozen protesters.

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A month into the unrest, the government has not taken action to respond to protesters demands, Khalid Hadi, a resident of Basra, told The National.

"Some of the demonstrators say the protests will remain daily and throughout Basra to mobilize people and raise public opinion", Mr Hadi said, adding they will pressure the government to fulfil their calls.

The people of Basra say that they have given up hope that the country's local and central government can change things.

"People have lost trust in government officials after what they did - they cut the internet, used violence on protesters, they have not made any reasonable solutions," Ahmed Ali, co-founder of Science Camp in Basra, told The National.

Mr Ali says corruption is the key factor that has caused the problems that the south has encountered.

"Saltwater is continuously running through our homes, in addition to the electricity problems that we have encountered since 2003. They say that the government's budget has been spent on electricity but it’s actually become worse, because of corruption," Mr Ali said.

Lack of good governance and transparency has been at the heart of the country's problems.

The central government has found it difficult to deal with corruption since 2003, partly because it’s the same leadership that benefits from the system, Renad Mansour, senior research fellow at London's Chatham House told The National.

"Even the most anti-corruption officials have been at the centre of corruption allegations," he said.

Mr Mansour says that it is no longer enough for an Iraqi leader to use identity to gain legitimacy.

"We have Shiite protesting against their own Shiite leadership, in the north we have Kurds protesting against their own Kurdish leadership, this movement has reached a wide audience," he said, adding that Iraqis are now questioning their own political elites.