Protests that began last week in Iraq are continuing amid widespread anger over abysmal public services provision by the government.
The unrest threatens to delay formation of a new government, mandated after Iraq’s elections in May, and has already led to break-ins to oil facilities and political offices.
First sparked in the oil-rich southern province of Basra and spreading to several cities including the capital Baghdad, Iraqis are voicing their frustrations over widespread unemployment, pollution, dirty drinking water and electricity failures during a stifling heat wave in the country’s south. While many of the protests have been peaceful, others have seen buildings set on fire, roads blocked and infrastructure damaged.
At least eight demonstrators have been killed so far amid a government crackdown, with scores of protesters and security forces injured; authorities have also carried out arrests, deployed water cannons and shut down the internet in several parts of the country.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who came third place in last May’s national election, promised jobs and public funds for Basra in response, but has failed to calm anger among a public fed up with endemic corruption and a disconnected political elite 15 years into the war-scarred country’s democracy.
The protests come as a partial recount of Iraq’s election results is underway. The elections, which saw populist Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr win but failed to produce a clear majority for any party, had a record low turnout of 44 percent, reflecting much of the population’s disenchantment with politics.
Southern Iraq has lived in relative stability compared to the country’s northwest, which endured more than four years of brutal Islamic State (IS) occupation until it was largely defeated by Iraqi and coalition forces at the end of 2017. Because of this, regional experts say, residents expect more from their representatives.