|Basra protests Sep 2018 (AP)
During the summer of 2018 protests returned to Basra focused upon services like water and electricity, fighting corruption and better governance. They eventually turned into riots in Basra city that went after political parties, Hashd al-Shaabi groups, and the Iranian consulate. Several activists were arrested and killed in what organizers believed was retaliation by some of those same parties.
Demonstrations started in Basra in July first in the outer districts and then in Basra city itself. The first were over power shortages and high salinity levels in the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Then police shot at protesters outside the West Qurna 2 oilfield. That galvanized tribes and activists, and soon there were daily marches and sit ins throughout the province, and the rest of southern Iraq. Soon people were going after political offices. On July 14 for instance, guards outside the Badr headquarters in Basra city opened fire to break up a crowd that eventually broke in and burned the building, while people tried to storm the offices of Asaib Ahl Al-Haq. Similar actions were taken in other governorates, and would continue over the following weeks.
A report by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights believes that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), elements of the Hashd al-Shaabi, and political parties coordinated a crackdown against the protesters that included arrests and assassinations. The center collected evidence that the ISF and elements of the Hashd were coordinating to suppress the protests. The Joint Operations Command even admitted that it worked with political parties to target activists. That included threats and detentions. For example, an organizer was arrested at the Basra train station after he dropped off people that came down from Baghdad to join in the demonstrations. There were also stories that Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Hezbollah al-Nujaba had hit lists of protesters. They might have been behind a number of assassinations and attacks. On September 25 Suad al-Ali head of a human rights group who had also organized protests was shot in the head getting into her car. The authorities claimed it was a regular criminal act but the Iraqi Human Rights Commission believed it might have been a professional killing. On October 11, activist Reda al-Tamimi said two gunmen wearing masks and riding motorcycles tried to kill him. Then on November 18, Sheikh Wissam al-Gharawi one of the leaders of the Basra demonstrations was murdered. This response is not surprising. During the war against the Islamic State most of the security forces in Basra were sent north to fight giving armed groups nearly free reign in the province. They were also provided cover by the fact that the Abadi government tried to stop the protests using carrots and sticks. They could use that response to justify their own actions to go after activists. Finally, given the fractured nature of Iraq the state has never had a monopoly on the use of violence since 2003. That means there are all kinds of groups that take the law into their own hands to protect their interests. All together that allowed Hashd groups and political parties to set up their own campaigns to suppress the demonstrations.
Baghdad Post, “Badr Militia HQ guard open fire at protesters in Al Tuwaisa,” 7/14/18
- “Iraq’s riot police open fire at protesters in Najaf,” 7/14/18
Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, “Civilian Activists under Threat in Iraq,” December 2018
Al Mirbad, “An angry demonstration in Abu Khasib protesting power outages,” 7/6/18
Al Rafidain, “URGENT Demonstrators burn the headquarters of the Badr militia in Al-Tawisa area in the center of Basra,” 7/14/18
Reuters, “Iraqi police open fire on protesters near southern oilfields,” 7/8/18
Sotaliraq, “Protesters break into the headquarters of the Islamic Party and cut off the roads in Babil,” 7/14/18