Iraq’s summer protest season seemed over when Basra was hit with an on-going water crisis. That led to a new round of demonstrations that have consistently escalated. That exploded on September 4 with a riot that burned the governor’s building and led to seven killed by the security forces (ISF).
Basra’s water problems took off in August. That was when people started going to the hospital after having drank contaminated water. By September 4 up to 22,000 had been affected. The cause was growing salinity coming from the Persian Gulf up the Shatt al-Arab, and the lack of water coming from the north due to a new dam in Turkey. The Abadi government promised to truck in fresh water to deal with the crisis, but Basra health officials have complained that the water delivered was not always clean as some were filled up at desalination plants that were not checking the quality. The government knew about both of these issues for years, and took little to no action. That led to growing anger at the authorities, which revived the protest movement.
It seemed like the demonstrations had ended when the water crisis gave them new life. They restarted in August, and there have been protests everyday in Basra since August 31. These have taken place throughout the governorate from the north, center to south. These have grown increasingly violent. On August 1, a man was killed by the ISF outside the West Qurna oil field in the north. On August 31, people stormed the Basra council building leading to the police firing into the air to disperse them. On September 1, 8 people were wounded during demonstrations, two journalists were arrested and several were attacked by the ISF for covering the events in Basra City. The mukhtar in Shatt al-Arab had his house set on fire, and demonstrators were broken up in Basra City using tear gas. Then things exploded on September 4. Thousands attempted to storm the Basra Operations Command and burned the governor’s building. The ISF again fired into the crowd killing 7 and wounding 30. These deaths will only energize the movement and lead to more demonstrations.
Things have escalated to the point that Baghdad might send in troops again to try to put down the gatherings. The government has no real to means to respond to the demands of the protesters, so it will use the carrot and stick like it has before. That consists of empty promises and going after activists and breaking up protests.
Agence France Presse, “Water pollution destroys Iraq’s oil-rich south,” 8/31/18
Baghdad Post, “Basra protesters block Garmat Ali roads,” 9/2/18
- “Iraqis hold protest to demand jobs in northern Basra,” 9/3/18
- “Protesters storm Basra Governorate HQ; police fire live ammunition,” 8/31/18
Bas News, “At Least 8 People Wounded in Basra Protests,” 9/1/18
- “Iraqi Protestors Set Fire to Mayor’s Home in Basra,” 9/3/18
- “Watch: Protests Resumed in Basra, One Demonstrator Killed,” 8/15/18
Buratha News, “Demonstrators besieging Basra Operations Commander inside the governorate building and burning part of the council building,” 9/4/18
Duggan, Joe, “Iraq protests: Security forces fire teargas at demonstrators massed at oilfield,” Sunday Express, 9/2/18
Karaalp, Haydar, “7 dead, more than 30 wounded in southern Iraq’s rally,” Anadolu Agency, 9/4/18
Al Mirbad, “Civil Defense: Fire extinguished in Basra government building and the fire devoured half of the building,” 9/4/18
- “Demonstrators close the Council and administration buildings in Hawir north Basra,” 9/2/18
- “Deputy for Basra: The number of poisoning cases reached 22 thousand and we deny the killing of demonstrators,” 9/4/18
- “Dozens from Shatt al-Arab tribes cut the road linking Basra,” 9/2/18
- “Dozens of people in Basra are demonstrating to demand better services,” 9/1/18
- “The end of the demonstration in Zubayr amid cheers criticizing the government’s disregard,” 9/3/18
- “Opening sit-in on the road leading to Shalamjah border crossing with Iran,” 9/2/18
- “Renewed demonstrations in Hawir north Basra to demand the detention of the killer of a demonstrator,” 8/29/18
- “Resumption of the sit-in at the Abdel Karim Qasim square, central Basra,” 9/1/18
- “The withdrawal of the protesters and the opening of the road leading to the Saibah gas field,” 9/2/18
- “Al-Zubayr demonstration renewed in response to the killing of a demonstrator in Basra,” 9/4/18
Rudaw, “Basra protester killed, provincial council building evacuated,” 9/4/18
- “High toll of victims at demonstrations in Basra at 5 dead and 25 wounded,” 9/4/18
Saadoun, Mustafa, “Basra rseidents reeling from contaminated drinking water,” Al Monitor, 8/31/18
Al-Salhy, Suadad, “Hospitals in Basra inundated with cases linked to dirty water,” Arab News, 8/28/18
Shafaaq News, “Security forces arrest and assault journalists in Basra,” 9/2/18
Sotaliraq, “Dispersing a demonstration of protesters in southern Iraq with tear gas,” 9/3/18