Widespread unrest is engulfing southern Iraq as Iraqis frustrated by shortages of electricity, water and jobs vent their anger, setting fire to political offices, attacking government infrastructure and deepening uncertainty about the country’s shaky political future.
The government on Saturday cut off Internet access across much of Iraq and ordered security forces on high alert after demonstrations that erupted six days ago in the southern port city of Basra spread overnight to many other parts of the overwhelmingly Shiite south, where a heat wave has aggravated poor living conditions,
Some of the worst violence took place in the city of Najaf, a destination for Shiite pilgrims from around the world. Protesters stormed the airport and marched on the headquarters of the main Shiite political parties, including the local headquarters of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s Dawa Party, which was set on fire.
Thousands of people also attacked government infrastructure and the offices of Shiite parties in the cities of Nasseriyah, Kut, Karbala, Babil and Amara. In Basra, they marched on the hotel where Abadi had stayed during a brief visit aimed at calming the situation. There was one small protest reported in Baghdad early Saturday, with demonstrators setting fire to tires and briefly closing access to the main highway leading to Jordan.
The upheaval comes at a critical time for the Iraqi government, which has been paralyzed since inconclusive and tainted elections in May. The ballots are now being recounted after allegations of fraud, and though the overall results aren’t expected to change much, the recount has delayed the seating of a new parliament and the formation of a new government.
This is not the first time that demonstrations, triggered at least initially by the lack of electricity during the hot summer months, have destabilized southern Iraq. Persistent power shortages since the U.S.-led invasion leave people sweltering without fans or air conditioners. This year conditions have been worsened by a severe drought, which has reduced the availability of water, and a decision by Iran to cut off the electricity it exports to Iraq because of a dispute over payments, further reducing the supply.
But these demonstrations seem more widespread and by Friday had taken on a decidedly political and anti-Iranian flavor. The protesters are turning much of their wrath against the Shiite parties that have dominated Iraqi politics since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, as well as against Iran, which is closely allied to the Shiite political establishment.
Iraqis say they blame the government, including Abadi and many other Shiite politicians, for the failure to provide jobs, infrastructure and improve the economy. Allegations of corruption at all levels of government are widespread, and the close relationship of many of the Shiite elites with Iran has deepened the resentment.
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Source: Christian Post