Iraq protests threaten to ‘paralyze’ oil industry in Basra

Basra produces most of Iraq's oil but local tribes are angry at the lack of jobs made available to them. (File photo: AFP)
Updated 11 July 2018
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Iraq protests threaten to ‘paralyze’ oil industry in Basra

  • Tribesmen demand oil companies give jobs to locals
  • Main road to West Qurna oil fields blocked by protesters

BAGHDAD: Thousands of protesting tribesmen in southern Iraq have threatened to “paralyze” oil production if the hundreds of companies running the oil fields fail to employ them.

Tensions in Basra escalated after police opened fire to disperse protesters who had blocked the road leading to West Qurna, home of the largest oil fields in Iraq, on Sunday.

One demonstrator was killed and three wounded, medics and police said.

Security has been stepped up and international oil companies have moved senior staff members amid fears that the protests could escalate into rioting.

Several influential tribes, including Albu-Mansour, the tribe of the protester who died, demanded police hand over the officer who fired the fatal shot, and the commander who ordered him to shoot, or to prosecute them.

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READ MORE: Oil firms’ multimillion-dollar bribery racket bringing death to the streets of Iraq’s Basra

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As the Tuesday deadline approached, thousands more tribesmen joined the protest to block the road. Most oil company employees operating in West Qurna were not able to reach their work, sources told Arab News.

On Tuesday tribal leaders in Basra called on the oil companies to dismiss all staff not born in the area, including foreigners and Iraqis, and replace them with young workers from Basra.

Iraqi security forces in the city have been on high alert and dozens of additional troops have been deployed in the region “to control the consequences,” a police officer told Arab News.

The protesters have been demanding that at least 80 percent of the jobs offered by the oil companies should be guaranteed to the people of Basra. They are also calling for improvements to basic services in the city, such as the water supply which has become highly saline in recent years due to a drop in river levels.

“We want to force the government to listen to our demands and respond to them,” one of the demonstration organizers told Arab News. “We will paralyze the movement of oil companies.”

 

 The organizer added that the oil companies are like “the hand that hurts the government, so we will twist it.”

In Basra about 800 foreign, Arab and local companies have Iraqi government approval to work in the oil sector.

Most of the companies have had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, commissions and compensation tribal heads who dominate local government in the province.

In April, Arab News reported how the murky web of bribes and corruption was fueling a surge in violence on Basra’s streets.

Villagers living near the oil fields do not see any of the compensation paid by the government and oil companies to the influential local sheikhs of their tribes.

Anger often boils over with demonstrations and road blocks near the oil fields, forcing the companies to offer concessions including jobs as guards or drivers.

“Those youth (the demonstrators) believe that they deserve to work in these companies more than others who come from other areas or provinces,” Sheikh Ra’ad Al-Furaiji, the head of the Tribal Council in Basra, told Arab News.

“They are very poor, uneducated and have no chance of getting jobs, but they have families that must be fed.

Security has been bolstered around the oil fields with some fearing the protests could become riots. (File photo: AFP)

“They have been watching their peers who come from other areas and provinces to work in their lands and hearing about the privileges that they have enjoyed, so they are very upset.”

Devastated by three decades of conflicts, Iraq suffers from rampant corruption and a lack of strategic development policies, particularly in the provinces.

Despite its vast oil reserves, many Iraqis suffer from a lack of basic services, including clean drinking water and electricity, as well as widespread poverty and high unemployment. 

Matters worsened as a result of the large fiscal deficit that the Iraqi government faced in 2014 as a result of the sharp drop in global oil prices and the high cost of the war with Daesh.

Basra, the backbone of the oil-dependent Iraqi economy, suffers from some of the worst basic services, despite producing 3.5 million barrels of oil per day — roughly 70 percent of Iraq’s national output.

Sunday’s demonstration was initially sparked by widespread electricity shortages in the south after Iran suspended a supply line. The move was to put pressure on the Iraqi government over payments which have become more difficult because of US sanctions against Tehran. 

But the protests quickly turned into demonstrations in attempt to force the oil companies into providing jobs for locals.

“The government has to revise its contracts with them (the oil companies) to force them to provide jobs and services for the local communities,” Sheikh Ya’arab Al-Mohammadawi, the chairman of the Dispute Resolution Committee in Basra Provincial Council, told Arab News. 

“These companies have turned out to be a tool to boost the disagreements and conflicts between the tribes because of the compensation payments.”

Senior foreign employees of Exxon Mobile, PetroChina and Lukoil have been moved from the West Qurna fields to Rumaila further south “as riots are expected to break out at any minute,” officials working close to the oil companies told Arab News.

Protesters also set up pavilions outside local government buildings in Medaina, in northern Basra.

Sheikh Dhurgham Al-Maliki, head of Bani Malik tribe, one of the most influential in Basra, said Iraq’s leaders had underestimated Basra and its people.

“The government knows the strength of the tribes of Basra and their courage. If things get out of control, everything will be burned.”

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Basra produces 3.5 million barrels of oil per day


Libya rivals clash south of capital, causing blackouts

Updated 18 September 2018
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Libya rivals clash south of capital, causing blackouts

  • Tuesday morning’s clashes centered on the main road to Tripoli’s long-closed international airport
  • Libya’s National Electricity Company said its network had been damaged, causing a total blackout across the country

TRIPOLI: New clashes flared between rival militias south of Libya’s capital Tripoli on Tuesday, causing widespread power outages, the national electricity firm said.
The fighting underscored the fragility of a United Nations-backed cease-fire reached earlier this month after days of deadly violence between armed groups in the capital, beset by turmoil since the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Tuesday morning’s clashes centered on the main road to Tripoli’s long-closed international airport, according to witnesses including an AFP journalist.
Libya’s National Electricity Company said its network had been damaged, causing a total blackout across the North African nation’s south and west.
Fighting which broke out late last month killed at least 63 people and wounded 159 others — mostly civilians — before the cease-fire came into effect on September 4.
Last week, the capital’s only working airport came under rocket fire just days after reopening following the truce.
Mitiga International Airport, located in a former military base that includes a prison, is currently controlled by the Special Deterrence Forces, a Salafist militia which serves as Tripoli’s police force and has been involved in clashes around the capital.
Interior Minister Abdessalam Ashour said Monday that a “regular force” would be tasked with securing the airport.
UN envoy Ghassan Salame later reported 14 cease-fire violations around Tripoli, but sought to play them down, saying the deal had been “generally respected.”
Tripoli’s main airport has been out of action since it was severely damaged by similar clashes in 2014.
Since Qaddafi’s fall in 2011, oil-rich Libya has been rocked by violence between dozens of armed groups vying for control of its cities and vast oil resources.
A UN-brokered agreement signed in Morocco in December 2015 established the Government of National Accord (GNA) in a bid to ease the chaos.
But deep divisions remain between the GNA and rivals including military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is based in eastern Libya and backs a competing authority.
The GNA last week announced a series of measures to secure the capital and curb the influence of militias over state institutions and banks.