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

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.



Iraq protests threaten to ‘paralyze’ oil industry in Basra

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


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.

Can Lebanon control cannabis cultivation?

A Syrian refugee (who asked to withhold his name) from Raqqa carries a bundle of cannabis during the harvest in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon. (Files/Reuters)
Updated 3 min 53 sec ago

Can Lebanon control cannabis cultivation?

  • Legalizing cannabis means legalizing something that is illegal and used to achieve a forbidden pleasure
  • There is a social stigma in Lebanon associated with cannabis consumption and cultivation

BEIRUT: A heated debate is taking place in Lebanon after McKinsey & Co., the global management consulting firm hired by the government to help restructure the country’s economy, recommended the legalisation of growing medical marijuana.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri received the recommendation, which isn’t binding for the Lebanese government, and informed the US ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard, that “the Lebanese Parliament is in the process of preparing the necessary laws for legalising the cultivation of cannabis for manufacturing marijuana pharmaceuticals as in Western countries.”
Some parliamentary blocs welcomed Berri’s stance, while others chose not to comment on it. Growing cannabis in Lebanon is classified as an act punishable by law, and consumers, as well as traders, are subject to legal prosecution.
No authority in Lebanon can accurately estimate the size of land cultivated with cannabis. Northern Bekaa Valley has always been the weakness of the absent state, and this allowed the de facto authorities to exploit its lands during the civil war and in the time of the Syrian occupation, which lasted 30 years and was followed by Hezbollah’s control.
Northern Bekaa is awash with cannabis fields, owing to its fertile ground that is adequate for growing this plant.
Every year, the security authorities publicly destroy lands in which cannabis was grown. Cannabis seedlings are planted between February and March every year, and the crops are harvested in September.
Cannabis cultivation has become a profitable profession for mafias that trade in cannabis, while the farmers receive the crumbs only.
Mona, a woman from Northern Bekaa who did not want to use her full name, said the fields surrounding her house were spacious and could be cultivated with cannabis, but her values prevented her from resorting to this type of farming.
She believes that by legalizing cannabis cultivation, the government is exempting those who have planted cannabis and traded in it from punishment.
“This is against the law and does not make any sense,” she said.
A Hezbollah member of Parliament, who wished to remain anonymous, refused to say whether he was for against the legalization of cannabis cultivation.
He told Arab News: “Is the Lebanese government capable of controlling cannabis cultivation? Let’s not lie to one another: no one can control it.
“Legalizing cannabis cultivation means that the government is to control and establish a company similar to the Régie tobacco company, issue licenses for farmers and receive the crops,” he continued. “This company may receive the crops, but will it be the full amount or will part of it be sent to the black market? And will the product be sold inside Lebanon or will the state sell it to other countries?”
The Hezbollah MP added: “Allowing the cultivation of cannabis means legalizing it to those who have a license and those who don’t, and this will reflect on society and the young generation.
“There is a social stigma in Lebanon associated with cannabis consumption and cultivation—a person who consumes or grows this plant is considered a failure.
“This country is neither the US nor the Netherlands—it is Lebanon. The ideas of the Dutch society are different from ours; they enjoy absolute freedom and know how to deal with it. As for us, should we legalize cannabis just because we are going through economic difficulties? So if we were looking for financial gains, should we legalize prostitution as well? Definitely not, and these things must be discussed at a religious level first and must be socially controlled.”
Rajaa Makki, a social psychology professor of the Lebanese University, said: “Cannabis cultivation might serve the country’s economy, but it needs to be regulated to limit violations.”
From a social/psychological point of view, Makki does not believe legalizing cannabis will yield positive results in a country like Lebanon, which lacks clear laws.
She added: “An individual who resorts to drugs usually has an emotional attachment, which means she/he is ill and is subconsciously seeking to have drugs replace what she/he lacks.”
“From here, legalizing cannabis means legalizing something that is illegal and used to achieve a forbidden pleasure.”
Makki stated that she was against legalizing cannabis in the absence of awareness campaigns.
“Awareness campaigns are an integral part of the process, especially at the social psychological level, and we are going to need more rehabilitation and treatment centers,” she said.
Those who are pro-cannabis cultivation claim that legalizing it will bring Lebanon money, while economists believe this step would contribute to a GDP growth rate of 0.5 percent.
Economist Louis Hobeika explained that the Lebanese government believes legalizing cannabis will control its cultivation and provide the country with legitimate income.
He added: “I am against it though, because the prices of the substance extracted from marijuana to be used for medical purposes are not globally high. Many countries are in this business and we are not inventing anything that can compete with their medical marijuana products.
“In addition to that, there is poor demand for medical marijuana, and there is an illusion that legalizing cannabis will earn Lebanon billions of dollars.”
He also said: “Who in Lebanon can control cannabis cultivation and who can guarantee that the business does not result in producing narcotics? The government cannot control it and a mafia that funds cannabis, probably in cooperation with the government, will be born, and we will find ourselves in a bigger problem.”
Hobeika asked: “Does Lebanon enforce traffic or construction laws as it should? What do you think would be the case for the law of cannabis cultivation?”
He stressed that it is necessary to help farmers in Northern Bekaa — and everyone who cultivates cannabis — find an alternative crop that generates revenue.
“Why don’t we grow flowers instead of importing them?” he suggested. “Or maybe exotic fruits—yes, they need additional efforts compared to cannabis cultivation as well as a new attitude, but these are positive products that do not harm our children.”
Pharmacist Samer Sobra was surprised how cannabis is to be used for medical purposes in Lebanon.
He said: “Cannabis in Lebanon is currently sold as a narcotic substance and not used for manufacturing pharmaceuticals. The substance extracted from cannabis for medical use is cannabidiol (CBD). It is used for manufacturing cough medicines, mood regulators, and relaxants in specialized labs. These medicines are not manufactured in Lebanon but imported from abroad.
“In Lebanon, there isn’t a high demand for these medicines which include CBD in their formula,” he added. “I believe it would be more profitable for Lebanon’s economy to sell the substance to other countries.”