June protest in Basra (Al Mirbad)
The first day of summer is quickly approaching. Temperatures are rising in Iraq. That has led to annual protests in the south over the lack of adequate services, corruption and jobs. The number one priority of the Adil Mahdi government since the day it entered office was to make sure there was no repeat of 2018 when riots broke out in Basra that led to the fall of the Abadi administration. Baghdad has emphasized improving the electrical grid, but there is still not enough supply to meet demand leading to the start of this year’s demonstrations.
Since Adil Mahdi took office he has talked about boosting power for this summer. For example, new Electricity Minister Luay al-Khateeb said that he would focus upon short-term energy projects that would increase supply over the next two years. In a press conference on June 11 PM Mahdi claimed that was already paying off with electricity production at 18,000 megawatts. That was up from 14,000 megawatts in May. The government is constantly making these types of announcements to try to assuage public complaints about the lack of power. The problem is the country needs roughly 24,000 megawatts during the hot months, which means there is still a huge shortfall.
Southern provinces are already mentioning issues. In Dhi Qar for instance, the Health Department stated air conditioning was being interrupted at a hospital in the capital Nassirya, while the Water Department announced that drinking water had been disrupted to five cities both due to the lack of electricity. Meanwhile in Basra, 1000 megawatts were lost due to a lack of natural gas to fuel power plants. Minister Khateeb said that would be solved, but the province is still only getting 12 hours of power per day or less. The provincial governments are trying to show that they are addressing this problem, because they know what’s coming. Public anger always boils over in the summer when there is not enough electricity leading to demonstrations over other concerns such as poor governance, corruption and jobs. The local authorities can only do so much as Baghdad holds all the cards, but they will feel the citizens’ wrath.
Activists are already organizing for this summer. The first actions were seen at the end of May. On May 28, students marched at the Dhi Qar University over the lack of electricity and water, graduates from the Basra Oil Company training program demanded jobs at the headquarters, while others called for the Basra council to step down. The next day, people blocked the roads to the West Qurna 1 and 2 oil fields in Basra calling for more power. June 4, people went to the electricity company in the Qurna district of north Basra. June 11, there were demonstrations at the Majnoon oil field in eastern Basra and at Fao in the south over jobs, services, and power shortages. Organizers in both Basra and Qadisiyah told the press that they are planning major actions in the coming days and weeks. This same scenario has played out over the last several years. The heat leads to a huge jump in demand, which the government has never been able to meet. People blame corruption and incompetence, and then other grievances like the lack of jobs come up as well. The anger boiled over last summer resulting in attacks and burning of the offices of political parties and Hashd groups. That led to the loss of confidence in PM Haidar al-Abadi and his failure to be re-elected for a second term. Mahdi fears that will be his fate. The steps taken so far do not seem to be adequate to stave off another long and hot summer however.
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- “Coordination of demonstrations Diwaniya: the service situation is corrupt and mobilize for new protests,” 6/8/19
- “A demonstration demanding the removal of the Council .. The Basra Provincial Council responds to the demonstrators,” 5/28/19
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- “In the middle of the Majnoon field demonstrators are cutting the bridge to demand appointments, services and compensation,” 6/11/19
- “The loss of about 1000 megawatts of electricity in Basra,” 6/11/19
Nasiriyah, “Because of the electricity crisis, the interruption of drinking water from five cities in Dhi Qar,” 6/10/19
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