BASRA, Iraq, July 16, (Agencies): Protests in Iraq continued into their second week Monday following days of clashes that left eight people dead, with demonstrators rallying to put social problems in the spotlight. Months after Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State group, attention has turned from the military battle to the fight for jobs and public services.
Thousands of people rallied in fresh protests Monday in the eastern province of Diyala and the southern city of Nasiriyah, according to AFP correspondents. Kuwait’s Defense Ministry, Interior Ministry and National Guard held a coordination meeting on Monday in the Operations and Plans Authority to discuss joint cooperation to address the regional conditions.
The Defense Ministry’s Directorate of Moral Guidance and Public Relations said in a statement that the joint meeting depicted the joint and ongoing cooperation between the security and military establishments for the service of the homeland security and the citizens.
The meeting was attended by Chief of the General Staff of the Kuwaiti Army Lieutenant-General Mohammad Khaled Al-Khodr, Ministry of Interior’s Acting Undersecretary Lieutenant General Essam Al-Nahham and head of operation and plans at the National Guard Maj Gen Faleh Shujaa, the statement added.
The ranking security and military officers briefed the meeting on the latest precautionary measures and steps taken to tackle the latest regional developments. They examined common plans, missions and joint training programs as well as coordination mechanisms, it said.
Taking part in the coordinative meeting were Deputy Chief of Staff General Sheikh Abdullah Al-Nawaf Al-Sabah, Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations and Planning Brigadier General Mohammed Al-Kanderi, MoI’s Assistant Undersecretary for Operations Major- General Jamal Al-Sayegh a number of high-ranking military officials.
Kuwaiti Ambassador to Iraq Salem Al-Zamanan has affirmed that the embassy continues to exert efforts to ensure the safe return of Kuwaitis to their homeland, stressing that all Kuwaitis in Iraq are in good condition and the embassy contacts them regularly, reports Al-Anba daily.
Speaking to the daily, Al-Zamanan disclosed six Kuwaitis have already left for Kuwait, indicating the embassy is now in the process of securing tickets for 21 other Kuwaitis. On the other hand, an Iraqi official told Al-Rai daily that Safwan border recently catered to several Kuwaitis and expatriates residing in Kuwait, revealing a number of travelers from Kuwait went to Basra while several others have retuned from Karbla to Kuwait.
He added the protests are still ongoing but there is no reason to worry, confirming the oil production was not affected by demonstrations in areas near an oilfield in Basra and governmental institutions in the province are operating as usual.
On Al-Najaf airport, the source clarified the airport is open but some airlines have announced cancellation of flights; asserting the airport is ready for ordinary flights. Iraqis already made their dissatisfaction with their leaders known through massive abstentions in May’s national elections, and now citizens are taking to the streets to demand they see benefits from the country’s vast oil reserves. “These oil fields belong to us, yet we get nothing,” said Hussein Ghazi, a 34-year-old protester in the port city of Basra.
The oil sector accounts for 89 percent of the state budget and 99 percent of Iraq’s export revenues, but only one percent of jobs, as the majority of posts are filled by foreigners.
Officially, 10.8 percent of Iraqis are jobless, while youth unemployment is twice as high, in a country where 60 percent of the population is aged under 24. For the demonstrators, who have taken their campaign to the headquarters of political parties across the southern provinces, setting some on fire and ripping down political posters, corruption is central to their plight.
Following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the country’s new leaders and public servants reaped the benefits of public funds and natural resources, leaving citizens with only basic infrastructure, according to protesters. “We hear a lot of grand words, but we don’t see anything coming,” said Basra demonstrator Aqil Kazem, an unemployed 27-year-old.
Chronic electricity cuts continue to leave Iraqis without respite from summer temperatures, which during the protests have reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).
Iraqis have also suffered from water shortages this year from drought and dams built by neighbouring countries. Since the daily protests began on July 8 in Basra, eight people have been killed in various cities, according to the health ministry.
The ministry did not however give details on the circumstances of the deaths, but according to different sources at least one person was shot dead by security forces in Basra.
That death, as youths demonstrated in Basra demanding jobs and against electricity cuts, fuelled the protest movement and it spread to provinces across the south: Dhi Qar, Karbala, Maysan, Muthana and Najaf. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi flew into the city on Friday in an effort to restore calm, a day later announcing investment worth $3 billion (2.6 billion euros) for Basra province.
He also pledged additional spending on housing, schools and services in the oil-rich but neglected region. As demonstrations continued, Abadi on Sunday met with security and intelligence chiefs in Baghdad and warned them to be on alert “because terrorists want to exploit any event or dispute”.
The prime minister also ordered security services not to use live fire against unarmed civilians. On Saturday the internet was cut across the country, as demonstrations threatened to spread.
Authorities said the shutdown was owing to maintenance work and Iraq was back online Monday. Despite the internet blackout, hundreds of protesters in Baghdad closed a highway on Sunday as they chanted slogans such as: “The people want to overthrow the regime”.
The demonstrators have won the backing of Iraq’s top Shiite authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has also called on them to refrain from violence. The latest rallies follow a 2015 protest movement against corruption and the absence of public services, led mainly by nationalist Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr who won this year’s elections on an anti-graft ticket