For the third time in four years, Iraqis have taken to the street to express their anger with the government for not providing enough electricity to meet demand. There are on-going protests in Basra and Dhi Qar provinces, the sight of similar events in 2010 and 2011. In response, the Electricity Ministry has tried to blame the weather and other ministries, which was very similar to previous years when it refused to take responsibility for its own shortcomings. The summers are very hot in Iraq, and if these protests grow they could pose a serious problem for the government, which is already dealing with a deteriorating security situation and demonstrations in Sunni areas.
The first protests over the lack of steady electricity were seen in Nasiriyah (New Sabah)
They have now spread to Basra (Iraq Times)
Starting in June 2013, protests have broken out in two of Iraq’s provinces. The city of Nasiriyah in Dhi Qar was the first to witness public outbursts. That began on June 3, when dozens of people showed up in the city center complaining about the government’s failure to provide adequate electricity. They continue to occupy the square to this day. Towards the end of the month a parliamentarian from Basra called for similar demonstrations in his home province. On July 10, another lawmaker from the oil and energy committee said there would be massive anger in Basra during the summer if the power problems were not solved. Two days later those protests started in Abu Al Khasib, Qibla, and Shatt al-Arab. On July 14, tribes in Basra threatened to join in. People’s anger eventually boiled over into Basra city where they continue, and have gained the support of the governor. These repeat previous events in both provinces. Back in June 2010 there were similar protests against power outages in Basra and Nasiriyah, and again in 2011. When security improved in Iraq after the end of the civil war in 2008 the lack of services moved up to the top of the list of priorities for the public. The problem was the government could never meet these rising expectations. Every year since 2005 it has said that the country’s electricity problems would be solved, and every year it failed. This is the cause of the protests that have occurred over the last several years in Basra and Dhi Qar, and other parts of Iraq.
The Electricity Ministry has responded the exact same way it did before, deferring blame, and continuing with its empty promises. In June, Electricity Ministry Abdul Karim Aftan blamed storms for knocking down power towers in Dhi Qar, and announced that the governorate’s power supply was being increased to make up for that. In July, the Ministry claimed that its power plants were not getting enough fuel from the Oil Ministry, and said that was a reason why the country was facing shortages. Other technical problems were mentioned as well. Similar statements were made during the previous years of protests. The Ministry has simply never admitted that it is failing to meet its promises, and that is creating a lack of trust amongst the populace. The authorities are no closer to meeting demand this year than in previous ones, and the people know it. It is exactly for these reasons that there have been so many demonstrations.
Many Iraqis are fed up with their government. That is increasingly being expressed by people hitting the streets and protesting. This happened in 2010 and 2011, and now they have started this year. Currently it is only occurring in two provinces, but there is a good chance that might spread to other provinces. If that were to happen it would pose a major dilemma to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. There are much larger protests going on in Anbar, Ninewa, and other governorates. The security situation is deteriorating as well with the insurgency growing and death counts increasing. If the demonstrations in the south were to expand, the government will respond with some concessions, and then likely crack down upon them with force as it did before if they continue. Maliki can only deal with so many crises at the same time, and coming down on the southern provinces would be the easiest to squelch of the three.
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