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.


Latest Gaza flare-up: What does it mean for the blockaded strip?

This cease-fire, like others before it, is fragile and could easily be derailed. (AFP)
Updated 18 November 2018
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Latest Gaza flare-up: What does it mean for the blockaded strip?

  • “Unfortunately aggression against the Palestinian people will continue.”
  • Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in Gaza since 2008

AFP JERUSALEM: A truce in Gaza has left Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu battling to keep his government afloat after Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman walked out in protest.

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, welcomed Lieberman’s resignation on Wednesday as a “victory” — but what will it mean for Gaza?

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in Gaza since 2008, interspersed with simmering hostilities and periodic spikes in violence.

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel. The Jewish state, like the US and the EU, defines Hamas as a “terrorist” organization. For over a decade Israel has maintained a crippling blockade on the coastal strip.

An apparently botched Israeli army raid into the Gaza Strip triggered the worst escalation in violence since 2014 and brought the two sides to the brink of war.

On Tuesday, Hamas and Israel accepted an Egyptian-mediated cease-fire. Denouncing it as “capitulation,” Lieberman resigned from his post the next day, leaving the government with a majority of just one seat in Parliament.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad declared the cease-fire with military powerhouse Israel “a political victory.”

It came after Israel in October allowed Qatar to provide Gaza with fuel to help ease its chronic electricity crisis, under a UN-brokered deal.

In parallel, Egypt and the UN have been seeking to broker a long-term Gaza-Israel truce in exchange for Israel easing its embargo.

The events of the past week gave a boost to Hamas and its allies, said Gaza political analyst Mukhaimer Abu Saada. “But if there is a war that could change,” he said.

After the pounding Gaza took in 2014, most residents want above all to avoid a rerun. Indirect contacts between Israel and Hamas have eroded the status of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

A peace initiative by US President Donald Trump is expected to emerge in the next few months. The PA fears that it will drive the wedge even deeper between Gaza the West Bank, two territories long envisaged as part of a unified Palestinian state.

Jamal Al-Fadi, a professor of political science in Gaza, says such a divide suits Israel. “We can not have results against Israel except by unity,” he said.

This cease-fire, like others before it, is fragile and could easily be derailed.

With the Israeli political tensions unleashed by Lieberman’s departure, there will be fresh domestic pressure on Netanyahu to hit Hamas harder.

“The coming days will be difficult” for Gaza, Al-Fadi said.

“It was a right-wing government and the (next) elections will bring another right-wing government,” he said.

“Unfortunately aggression against the Palestinian people will continue.”