Iraqi security forces have used batons and rubber hoses to disperse hundreds of protesters who gathered near an oilfield in the flashpoint province of Basra, as anger mounts over the government’s failure to address crumbling infrastructure and a lack of basic services.
Local officials said production had not been affected at the giant Zubair oilfield near Basra, with police vowing to use “necessary measures to keep protesters away from the fields”.
Iraqis have vented their anger at several major oilf ields since the demonstrations began nine days ago, and stormed government buildings, branches of political parties and powerful Shia militias.
Strangers have decent jobs at our oilfields and we don't have the money to pay for a cigarette. That's wrong and must be stopped
Thousands have poured on the streets in the provinces of Basra, Maysan, Dhi Qar, Najaf and Karbala to demand better services, employment opportunities, and an end to Iranian interference.
On Monday morning, protesters burned posters bearing the image of Iran’s former Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini on a main street in the province of Basra.
‘I want a job’
According to activists, at least seven people have been killed and dozens wounded since the unrest first erupted on July 8.
“We the people of Basra hear about the Iraqi oil and its huge revenues, but we never enjoy its benefits,” unemployed protester Esam Jabbar said.
“Strangers have decent jobs at our oilfields and we don’t have the money to pay for a cigarette. That’s wrong and must be stopped.”
The mounting anger comes at a time when rampant electricity cuts have exacerbated a sweltering heatwave, with Basra seeing temperatures exceed 48 degrees Celsius.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is heading a fragile caretaker government until a new one can be formed, has announced that his government would release funds to Basra for water, electricity and health services.
But so far, the protesters have ignored his concessions and taken the unusual step of protesting against the government and its powerful Shia neighbour, Iran.
“I live in a place which is rich with oil that brings billions of dollars while I work in collecting garbage to desperately feed my two kids,” said Murtadha Rahman, who said he was beaten by police.
“I won’t go even if you kill me; I will stay here. I want a job.”
Ranked the joint tenth-most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International, southern areas of Iraq are home to oilfields that account for the vast majority of the more than three million barrels of oil Iraq exports every day.
Yet, the region remains underdeveloped and has suffered from chronic power outages, poor water quality and uncollected waste.