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New protests hit southern Iraq one month into unrest

Middle East | 2018-08-06 01:48:02
New protests hit southern Iraq one month into unrest
Protesters flooded the streets of southern Iraq again Sunday, nearly a month into a wave of unrest over corruption and decaying public services, AFP correspondents said. In oil-rich Basra, the southern port city where the protests broke out on July 8, tribal chiefs and Shiite religious leaders joined several hundred demonstrators in front of the provincial headquarters.

Security forces were deployed en masse as demonstrators railed against chronic power cuts, water shortages and endemic unemployment, along with state incompetence and foreign interference.

While there were no clashes over the weekend, 14 people have been killed since the unrest flared, including at least one person shot dead by security forces.

In Samawa, further west, protestors have been staging a sit-in for more than a week, condemning the misappropriation of billions of dollars from the state budget over recent years.

Daily demonstrations have continued despite government pledges to pump billions of dollars into oil-rich but neglected south.

But the initially large protests have dwindled, apparently weakened by numerous arrests and a heavy security presence.

Anti-corruption rallies have also hit Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square, but they too have waned to just a few dozen protestors.

Prime Minster Haider al-Abadi on July 29 sacked Electricity Minister Qassem al-Fahdawi, whose departure had been demanded by demonstrators. Fahdawi had been the architect of a privatization program that was meant to herald electricity 24 hours a day.

Iraqis say the project worked well for a few months in the zones where it was tested. But as soon as the summer heat arrived, power cuts multiplied once more

Experts say supply of electricity falls at least 40 percent short of demand during the summer.

And a substantial slice of the estimated $40 billion allocated to the power sector over the past 15 years has vanished.

Money from public tenders has allegedly lined the pockets of corrupt politicians and businessmen who fronted fake contracts.

Fahdawi’s dismissal came amid political tensions as Iraq awaits the results of a partial recount of May 12 elections.

Also Sunday, the Iraqi government said militants have attacked a high voltage power line serving several Iraqi provinces for the eighth time in two months.

The Electricity Ministry said it had to once again repair the 400 kilovolt line between Kirkuk and Diyala after “terrorist attacks of sabotage ... which caused the line to cut” Thursday.

The damage was “the eighth attack on this line in two months,” the ministry said in a statement, plunging Kirkuk, Salaheddin and Ninevah provinces into darkness.

Abadi declared “victory” in the fight against Daesh (ISIS) in December, after the militants had seized nearly a third of the country’s territory in 2014.

But Daesh pockets remain, including in the mountains around Kirkuk.

The damage to the line between Kirkuk and Diyala has now been repaired and power restored to residents, a source in the Electricity Ministry told AFP Sunday.
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