Hundreds of Iraqis are demonstrating over the poor quality of water and lack of electricity in the southern city of Basra, as protests demanding better services from the government and an end to corruption spread across the country.
About 500 people, waving banners and Iraqi flags, protested in front of the governor’s office on Saturday amid a heatwave sweeping the country to demand a solution to the long-running problem of salty tap water.
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“We demand the dismissal of the governor and of the provincial council; the time has come for Basra’s people to get their rights,” said Ziyad Tareq, a 24-year-old student.
When the governor’s deputy went out to hear their demands, demonstrators pelted him with plastic water bottles and insisted on seeing the governor himself.
“The local government is always promising improved water and electricity but they are liars and no longer have any credibility,” Tareq said.
“The temperature is 54 degrees [Celsius] in central Basra right now … the Basra people are very angry at their rulers.”
‘Thieves, thieves, thieves’
On Friday, several hundred Iraqis had taken to the streets of Baghdad to vent their anger at the capital’s chronic electricity shortages, which they blamed on government corruption.
“Thieves, thieves, thieves,” chanted the crowd, mostly middle-class Baghdadis, as they marched before dusk.
Iraq’s infrastructure was severely damaged during the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein and the country has suffered chronic power shortages ever since.
The government has repeatedly promised an end to the crisis, compounded by fighter attacks since 2003, but shortages have continued and private generators flourished as an alternative.
Power from the national grid is on only a few hours a day in most of the country, making life deeply uncomfortable in the searing summer heat.
The government declared on Thursday and Sunday national holidays because the temperature broke the 50-degree Celsius mark.
“We are demonstrating against a failed government, a government that has disappointed the hopes of the people,” said Nahida Ahmad, a middle-aged woman employed at the ministry of culture.
“We have no services; have they no shame? For years, we have been telling them they are failures, they are thieves, they are corrupt. Have they no shame?”
Many of the demonstrators in Baghdad were civil servants who were not afraid to criticise the government.
“We despair of this government we elected and we are tired of being submitted to those cowards,” said Dawood Akram, an engineer at the ministry of water resources.
“Thirteen years with no water, no electricity, no services and with low salaries. The people have had enough,” he said.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered state institutions and government officials to save electricity with programmed power cuts.
The demonstrators on Friday said corruption and incompetence were at the root of the problem.
“The Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces) and our brave army are fighting the Dawaesh of murder,” said Yunes Hassan, using a reference to members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group.
“We are here to fight the Dawaesh of corruption,” said the young computer engineering student.