Iraq: Basra protesters call for resignation of local governor

Step-down demands come after a protester was killed during renewed anti-government demonstrations in the southern city.

Mourners carry the coffin of an Iraqi demonstrator, who was killed during ongoing anti-government protests in Basra
One Iraqi demonstrator was killed and four others were wounded during continuing anti-government protests in Basra [Reuters]

Protesters in Iraq’s southern city of Basra issued a strongly worded statement calling on the oil-rich province’s governor to step down, along with his two deputies, after a demonstrator was killed during anti-government rallies. 

The resignation calls on Sunday night came amid a revival of Iraq’s anti-government protests since October last year to demand better living conditions, an end to corruption, and a complete overhaul of the political system.

Rallies that gripped the capital, Baghdad, and Iraq’s mostly Shia south halted for several weeks because of government-imposed curfews and restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus, which has killed more than 100 Iraqis and infected nearly 3,000 others. 

Triggered by anger by the appointment of former intelligence chief Mustafa al-Kadhimi as Iraq’s new prime minister on Thursday, hundreds of demonstrators returned to the streets on Sunday to demand a complete overhaul of the political system. 

In Basra, those calls extended to the local government as well. 

“From Basra, we declare that the Iraqi state has completely lost its credibility in the eyes of its people,” said the demonstrators’ statement in footage circulated over social media. “It (the state) has become nothing more than a network of support for oppressive militias and corrupt political parties.”

The statement went on to announce that Basra’s governor, Assad al-Eidani, and his two deputies, Mohamed al-Timimy and Dorgham al-Ajwadi, should be removed and tried by a court. 

“We will nominate another governor for Basra,” added one unidentified protester who read out the statement while covering his face with a red-and-white checkered kaffiyeh.

As one of the biggest political blocs in the Iraqi parliament, the Iran-backed Binaa faction nominated its member Eidani as new prime minister in December last year, but the move was swiftly rejected by protesters. 

The Binaa bloc, linked to the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMF), includes the Fatah alliance led by Hadi al-Amrir and the State of the Law Coalition led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.


‘Complete overhaul’

According to Azhar al-Rubaie, a journalist from Basra, protesters called for the resignation of Eidani because they see him as part of the same system they want changed.

“Eidani made many promises to create employment opportunities and pay civil servants their salaries, but none of those promises have been met,” said al-Rubaie.

“They also blame him for the killing of demonstrators during the months-long rallies, and that’s why they want him put on trial,” he explained. 

He continued: “They want to see new faces in the central and local governments alike. That’s why they reject Kadhimi and Eidani both.” 

Protester killed 

The statements came as large groups of protesters gathered in Basra’s streets on Sunday night to call for the removal of the ruling elite that they see as corrupt.

As the demonstrators moved closer to the headquarters of an Iran-backed militia called Thaa’r Allah, armed men guarding the building shot and killed one protester, witnesses at the scene said.   

“A 20-year-old protester was killed and four others were injured,” Ali al-Bayat, a member of the Iraqi Human Rights Commission, told Al Jazeera about the incident. 

Following the escalation, al-Kadhimi said in a statement on Monday his government would commit to “respecting human rights, the right to peaceful demonstration, protecting demonstrators, and holding perpetrators accountable”.

He also ordered his security forces to storm the militia group’s headquarters and arrest the men responsible for the violence. The move was seen as a rare swift governmental response to protest-related violence.   

Since his appointment on Thursday, al-Kadhimi has attempted to appease the protesters by ordering the release of detained demonstrators and promising to hold perpetrators responsible for the killing of at least 550 people during the months-long rallies accountable.

But according to independent Iraq analyst Zeidon al-Kinani, the protest movement is not likely to calm down.

“There’s an ongoing discussion among protesters on whether or not they should give Kadhimi’s government a chance before they mobilise again,” al-Kinani told Al Jazeera. 

But waiting is hard “because the cabinet’s formation followed the same ethnic-sectarian quota which people revolted against”, he added.

Source: Al Jazeera