Protests have spread to more Iraqi cities after a week of violent demonstrations in the oil-rich city of Basra where at least seven people were killed, dozens wounded, and hundreds arrested, police and activists said.
Monday’s protests took place in the eastern province of Diyala and the southern city of Nasiriyah, according to AFP news agency.
The unrest first erupted in Basra on July 8 when security forces opened fire, killing one person. Protesters accused the government of failing to provide basic services, including electricity.
“We are the residents of Basra, not infiltators. We are simply raising our demands, which are clean water, electricity, basic services and jobs. Our peaceful protests are met with bullets,” one demonstrator told Al Jazeera.
These oil fields belong to us, yet we get nothing
Unemployment and corruption
The oil sector accounts for 89 percent of the state budget and 99 percent of Iraq’s export revenues but only one percent of jobs, as the majority of posts are filled by foreigners.
Officially, 10.8 percent of Iraqis are jobless, while youth unemployment is twice as high in a country where 60 percent of the population is under age 24.
For the demonstrators corruption is central to their plight. They took their campaign to the headquarters of political parties across the southern provinces, setting some on fire and ripping down political posters.
Following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the country’s new leaders and public servants reaped the benefits of public funds and natural resources, leaving citizens with only basic infrastructure, according to protesters.
“We hear a lot of grand words, but we don’t see anything coming,” said Basra demonstrator Aqil Kazem, an unemployed 27-year-old.
Chronic electricity cuts continue to leave Iraqis without respite from summer temperatures, which during the demonstrations have reached 50 degrees Celsius.
Iraqis have also suffered water shortages this year from drought and dams built by neighbouring countries.
Saad Jawad, a professor of political science at the London School of Economics, said if there were no steps taken by the government, protests would continue to flare.
“If the people don’t see concrete improvements in their lives that satisfy their demands – improvements in electricity, employment, services and actions against corrupt officials – they won’t stand down.
“The government needs to address their grievances,” Jawad told Al Jazeera from the UK capital.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi flew into the city of Basra on Friday in an effort to restore calm, a day later announcing investment worth $3bn for the province.
He also pledged additional spending on housing, schools and services in the oil-rich but neglected region.
As demonstrations continued, Abadi on Sunday met with security and intelligence chiefs in Baghdad and warned them to be on alert “because terrorists want to exploit any event or dispute”.