Iraqi tribes demand jobs as Basra oil protests grow

Iraqi security forces in Basra have been on high alert since Sunday. (File/Reuters)
Updated 12 July 2018
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Iraqi tribes demand jobs as Basra oil protests grow

  • Anger has grown in Basra, the country’s main oil hub, since police opened fire on demonstrators
  • More than 13 tribes on Wednesday announced they were backing the request of the Bani Mansour, the tribe of the protester killed by police

BAGHDAD: Tribes in southern Iraq blocked more roads and flooded the streets with protesters as demonstrations against foreign and local oil companies grew on Wednesday.

Anger has grown in Basra, the country’s main oil hub, since police opened fire on demonstrators who gathered at the entrance of an oil company on Sunday to demand jobs. One protester was killed and three were injured. 

The tribe of the victim demanded that Iraqi forces hand over the perpetrators for punishment or reveal their identities. The government’s refusal to respond to the request has fueled anger in the city.

Basra is the main source of the country’s wealth, but the local population sees little of the benefit.

More than 13 tribes on Wednesday announced they were backing the request of the Bani Mansour, the tribe of the protester killed by police. 

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters took to the streets in downtown of Basra and its outskirts. 

Hundreds more blocked main roads leading to Rumaila, home of the biggest oil fields in the country. 

Protests were planned “to restrict the movement of the workers of the oil and gas sector,” an organizer told Arab News. Some roads were blocked with dirt barriers while burning tires were placed across others. 

Iraqi security forces in Basra have been on high alert since Sunday and additional troops were deployed along roads leading to the headquarters of oil companies and oil fields. Foreign firms have evacuated senior staff from West Qurna to southern Rumaila, and “have activated contingency plans to address any potential risks,” a local security adviser told Arab News.

The Iraqi Ministry of Oil, which supervises the work of hundreds of foreign, Arab and local oil companies in Basra, advised local staff to organize their work according to “(the urgent) security conditions and roadblocks.” 

Staff were told to work 12-hour shifts and longer to help cover any labor shortfall and to use alternative routes to reach work sites.

A statement signed by the heads of Basra’s tribes laid out their main grievances. 

“We ask the oil companies to improve the infrastructure of the towns and villages where these companies are operating in Qurna and Medaina,” it said.

The tribes also called for improvements in water and electricity supplies, hospitals and roads.

Iraq has suffered from a severe lack of basic services since 1991. Southern provinces, especially Basra, are among the worst affected by high poverty and unemployment.

Local officials insist that 139,000 locals from Basra are employed in the oil and gas sector there, compared with more than 50,000 foreign and Iraqi workers from outside Basra. But protesters have demanded the expulsion of workers from outside the region to provide more work opportunities for locals.

“It is true that the largest number of workers in these (oil and gas) companies are from Basra, but it is still unsatisfactory,” Ali Shaddad Al-Faris, head of the Basra Provincial Council’s oil and gas committee, told Arab News.

“We have already asked the big oil companies to open centers to qualify the locals for more jobs. 

“They (the companies) have expressed their readiness, but the Ministry of Oil, which is the only body authorized to ask them, is not interested in developing the skills of youth or improving the situation.”

The protest on Sunday was initially against severe electricity shortages, but anger was quickly redirected toward the oil companies.


Gaza: Palestinian territory ravaged by war and poverty

Updated 38 min 38 sec ago
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Gaza: Palestinian territory ravaged by war and poverty

  • Israel tightened its blockade of the Strip on Tuesday by suspending fuel deliveries amid fears of a new all-out conflict
  • Gaza is one of the most densely populated territories on the planet with around two million Palestinians squeezed into 362 square kilometers

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: The Gaza Strip, run by Hamas, is a poverty-stricken and overcrowded Palestinian coastal enclave under a crippling blockade by Israel, with which it has fought several wars.
After Israel tightened the blockade on Tuesday by suspending fuel deliveries amid fears of a new all-out conflict, here is some background.
On the Mediterranean coast, Gaza is one of the most densely populated territories on the planet with around two million Palestinians squeezed into 362 square kilometers (140 square miles).
After the creation of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948 and the Arab-Israeli war of 1948-1949, Gaza came under the administration of neighboring Egypt.
It was seized by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967.
In 2005 Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers, ending 38 years of occupation.
But it imposed a blockade in 2006, restricting the cross-border movement of people and goods following the capture of a soldier by Hamas militants on Israeli territory.
The blockade was tightened a year later after the ousting of troops loyal to the rival Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
The only entrance to Gaza not controlled by Israel is at Rafah on the Egyptian border. This too has been almost completely closed since extremists launched an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula after the military overthrew Egypt’s president Muhammad Mursi in 2013.
In May 2018 Israel began working on a “new and impenetrable” coastal barrier just north of Gaza to prevent the possibility of Palestinians entering by sea.
The Gaza Strip has almost no industry and suffers from a chronic lack of water and fuel. Its GDP losses caused by the blockade are estimated at more than 50 percent, the World Bank says.
Unemployment stands at 45 percent and more than two-thirds of the population depends on aid.
A reconciliation deal in 2017 between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority raised hopes of an improvement in the harsh conditions in the enclave, but talks have stalled.
In January 2018 UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov warned the Gaza Strip was on the verge of “full collapse.”
Donors in March greenlighted a project to build a desalination plant in Gaza, where more than 95 percent of water is unfit for drinking due to overpumping of groundwater.
Israel has carried out several military operations against Palestinian militants in Gaza, with thousands killed.
“Operation Hot Winter” in February-March 2008, in response to the killing of an Israeli by a rocket fired from Gaza, left more than 120 Palestinians dead in just days.
It led to weeks of unrest, with rocket fire from Gaza and attacks from Israel, in which hundreds of Palestinians were killed until a truce in June.
A vast air offensive, “Operation Cast Lead,” was launched in December 2008 to stop Palestinian rocket fire into Israel. It ended with a cease-fire in January 2009 and 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
In November 2012 “Operation Pillar of Defense” kicked off with a missile strike that killed top Hamas commander Ahmed Jaabari. In the ensuing eight-day flare-up, 177 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.
In July 2014 Israel launched “Operation Protective Edge” to stop the rocket fire and destroy tunnels used for smuggling and the movement of militants.
It lead to a war that left 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side and 74 on the Israeli side.