Pro-Iran paramilitaries join push to ‘paralyze’ Basra oil exports

Iraqi protesters burn tires and block the road at the entrance to the city of Basra. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2018
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Pro-Iran paramilitaries join push to ‘paralyze’ Basra oil exports

  • Disruption to Iraq's oil production would be in Iran’s interest as it seeks to hit back at US sanctions
  • Protesters and police injured on fifth day of protests

BAGHDAD: Iran-backed armed factions in Iraq announced their support on Thursday for demonstrations sweeping the country’s main oil hub.

Protesters in Basra are targeting local and international oil companies, and warn they will “paralyze” the industry unless their demands for jobs and improved basic services are met.

Pro-Iranian paramilitary troops, including Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, one of the most prominent Shiite armed factions, and its offshoots Al-Nujabaa, Kataib Sayyad Al-Shuhaddaa and Saraya Al-Kharassani all said separately they were backing the protesters.

Iran would benefit from any disruption to the oil sector in Basra as it seeks to stave off US sanctions against its own oil exports, analysts and oil experts told Arab News.

The Shiite forces could provide logistical support for the protests, which have blocked roads and led to clashes with police.

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Early on Thursday, thousands of protesters tried to storm the entrances of oil company headquarters in northern Basra.

Iraqi security forces opened fire to disperse the demonstrators, who responded by hurling stones.

Six people, including two policemen, were wounded in the exchanges and temporary buildings belonging to the Russian energy giant Lukoil Company were set on fire. Security sources said that foreign employees of the company were evacuated by helicopter.

Iran wields considerable influence in Iraq, particularly in the predominantly Shiite south, where it supports a network of armed factions with funding and weapons. 

Gaining influence over the oil and gas sector in Iraq is vital for Iran as it seeks to head off US attempts to economically suffocate Tehran, analysts said. 

In May, US President Donald Trump pulled out of a deal between Iran and world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

The US has ordered all countries to stop buying Iranian oil by November or face sanctions themselves. 

Disrupting the export of Iraqi oil would “send a message to the US that the Iraqi oil industry and its output are not out of (Iran’s) reach,” an Iraqi analyst based in Washington told Arab News.

“What is happening in Basra is part of the conflict between the US and Iran. It may be a preemptive step from Iran to affect or halt Iraqi oil exports.

“Iran has sent two messages through these demonstrations. The first is to tell the US that the Iraqi oil sector can be reached by its hands in the region.

“The second was to tell the international community that Iraqi oil is not the appropriate alternative to compensate for a shortfall created by the absence of Iranian oil.”

Iraqi officials told Arab News that oil exports have not been affected by the protests.

The situation in Basra follows a threat by Iranian officials earlier this month to block global oil supplies being shipped through the Straits of Hormuz from the Arabian Gulf. 

The US president asked Saudi Arabia last week to increase its oil production to compensate for the shortfall in the global market and ensure the stability of oil prices, but the Kingdom alone will not be able to continue this in the long term and must be backed by another source.

“Iraqi oil is the solution,” an Iraqi analyst told Arab News. “The goal (behind the demonstrations) is to create security problems and tell the world that (Iraqi oil) source is not secure.”

Protests erupted on Sunday over a lack of basic services, including drinking water and electricity, but quickly turned against the oil companies with demonstrators demanding jobs. One protester was killed and three wounded by security forces on the first day.

The tribe of the fatally injured protester demanded the killer and their commander be handed over for punishment, but the Iraqi government refused to respond.

On Wednesday, 13 tribes announced their support for the demands of Bani Mansour, the victim’s tribe.

Officials have attempted to defuse the crisis in Basra by sending a ministerial committee, headed by Jabbar Luaibi, the oil minister.

The committee on Thursday offered to create 10,000 jobs in the oil and gas sector for the people of the region.


Algeria deports nearly 400 migrants back to Niger

Updated 48 min 57 sec ago
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Algeria deports nearly 400 migrants back to Niger

  • The IOM and EU are intensifying efforts to return African migrants home
  • 391 migrants from 16 west and central African countries had arrived in Assamaka

NIAMEY: Algeria has deported nearly 400 African migrants trying to reach Europe, sending them back over the Sahara desert into neighboring Niger, the UN migration agency (IOM) and Niger said on Sunday.
The IOM and European Union are intensifying efforts to return African migrants home, after thousands have died making the dangerous crossing to Europe across the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats. Many get stuck before ever reaching Africa’s northern coast, either in Libya, where they suffer slavery and abuse at the hands of militias, or Algeria.
IOM operations officer Livia Manente told Reuters in an email that the group of 391 migrants from 16 west and central African countries had arrived in the Nigerien town of Assamaka on Friday on about 20-30 vehicles, after being stopped while heading to work in various Algerian cities.
“They claim their phones were confiscated and that conditions were poor — not much food and water, crowded rooms),” she said. “They were transported in trucks after the locality of In Guezzam and then obliged to walk across the border ... including families with pregnant women and children.”
Aboubacar Ajouel, the mayor of Agadez, the last destination for the migrants, confirmed that they had arrived.
Algeria declined to confirm this particular deportation, but said that 20,000 migrants had been prevented from reaching Europe by Algerian authorities since January, thanks to security measures put in place at its borders with Mali and Niger.
“We have no choice but to prevent them,” Hassen Kacimi, director of Algeria’s interior ministry in charge of migration, told Reuters by telephone.