25 killed in Iraq protests

Submitted by SJW on 11 September, 2018 - 9:21 Author: Nadia Mahmood

For two months now, since 8 July, there has been a wave of street demonstrations in southern Iraq, a rise of social agitation such as has not been seen since the almost-civil-war of 2006-7.

The protests were triggered by the Iranian government cutting off electricity supplies to the major southern Iraqi port city, Basra, most of which come by grid from Iran rather than being generated locally. They then took up the issues of jobs - unemployment is very high in Iraq - and corruption.

Over the last couple of weeks, the focus has shifted to contamination in the water supply in Basra, and protests in other cities against the killing or kidnapping of demonstrators in Basra. About 25 demonstrators have been killed so far, in Basra mostly by the SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) special police units, so named after the US model.

In other cities, other police forces, the army, and militia units (given official recognition by the government) have harassed demonstrators.

The protests have spread to Nasiriyah, Amarah, Najaf, and Baghdad. They have not yet spread to the mainly-Sunni cities further north, but the Baghdad protests have mobilised Sunnis as well as Shia (who are the big majority in cities further south).

The protests usually gather hundreds rather than thousands, but they take place in many suburbs in each city. They are organised by word of mouth and social media. Almost all the protesters are young men, aged between 16 and 30. It is a general problem in Iraq, since 2006-7 especially, and not specific to these protests, that young women students and workers, even from the poorest families, stay at home, fearing to go out except when they travel by car to work or university.

It remains to be seen how the protests will develop in the coming weeks when, first, the Shia religious ceremonies leading up to the rites of Ashura begin (from 11 September), and, later, universities start their new year.

In Garmat Ali, just north of Basra, protesters took over control of the town for a while. The police ran away, though they later re-established control.

In Basra the protesters have burned down the city council buildings, and burned portraits of the Iranian Supreme Leaders, Khomeini and Khamenei. The city council is run by the Al-Hikma party, formerly SCIRI, generally regarded as the party in Iraq closest to the Iranian government.

Resentment against Iranian domination in Iraq is a strong element in the demonstrations. In Baghdad, at least, there are also explicitly secularist elements in the demonstrations.

In Basra, also, port workers have stated that they will stop oil being exported, and young protesters have blockaded the port of Umm Qasr.
The Sadr Movement, a Shia Islamist movement with more autonomy from Iran which, in coalition with the Iraqi Communist Party, did relatively well in the May 2018 elections, has expressed sympathy for the protests, but organised no action.

The Worker-communist Party of Iraq has called on the protesters to organise elected committees in the neighbourhoods to challenge and take power from the corrupt city councils and other authorities.

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