Main Iraqi port closed as one dies, 25 injured in Basra protests

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Iraqi protesters watch on official building in flames as they demonstrate against the government and the lack of basic services in Basra on September 6, 2018. One protester was killed in the oil-rich southern Iraqi city of Basra, an official said on September 5, after security forces fired live ammunition to stop the latest in two months of demonstrations. / AFP / Haidar MOHAMMED ALI
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An Iraqi ambulance leaves during a protest against the government and the lack of basic services outside the regional government headquarters in the southern city of Basra. (AFP)
Updated 06 September 2018
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Main Iraqi port closed as one dies, 25 injured in Basra protests

  • Residents in Basra say the water supply has become contaminated with salt
  • Public anger has grown at a time when politicians are struggling to form a new government

BASRA: Iraq's main seaport closed down on Thursday following clashes between protestors and security forces in the nearby southern city of Basra in which one demonstrator died and 25 were injured the previous night.
Southern Iraq, heartland of the country's Shi'ite majority, has erupted in unrest in recent weeks as protesters express rage over collapsing infrastructure, power cuts and corruption.
Port employees said that all operations had ceased on Thursday morning at Umm Qasr port - the main lifeline for grain and other commodity imports that feed the country - after protestors blocked the entrance. Trucks and staff were unable to get in or out of the complex.
Officials announced a citywide curfew would be in place after 3 pm local time, but cancelled it just as it was due to come into force.

Iraqi protesters also stormed and set fire to a provincial government building in the southern city of Basra on Thursday.

Later on Thursday, protesters in Basra set fire to the headquarters of the ruling Dawa Party, the Islamic Supreme Council and the largest Iran-backed Shiite militia group in the country, the Badr Organization, local security sources said.
They also attacked the local offices of the state-run Al-Iraqiya TV channel, in the fourth consecutive night of violent unrest.
Residents in Basra, a city of more than 2 million people, say the water supply has become contaminated with salt, making them vulnerable and desperate in the hot summer months. Hundreds of people have been hospitalised from drinking it.
A Health Ministry spokesman told a news conference in Baghdad that 6,280 people had been recently hospitalised with diarrhoea due to the oversalinated water.
The protesters began blocking the entrance to Umm Qasr port, which lies about 60 km (40 miles) from Basra, on Wednesday. They also blocked the highway from Basra to Baghdad and set fire to the main provincial government building where they had been demonstrating for a third night.
Public anger has grown at a time when politicians are struggling to form a new government after an inconclusive parliamentary election in May. Residents of the south complain of decades of neglect in the region that produces the bulk of Iraq's oil wealth.
Leading political figures, embroiled in government formation negotiations in Baghdad, have scrambled to respond to the intensifying crisis, condemning rivals for inaction.
Incumbent Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi convened an emergency cabinet meeting on Tuesday to discuss the unrest and ordered the Interior Ministry to conduct an immediate investigation into the protest.
At a news conference on Thursday, Moqtada Al-Sadr, a populist Shiite cleric whose electoral bloc came first in May's national election, called for an emergency televised session of parliament to discuss the crisis in Basra, a city "without water, electricity or dignity".
Iraq's second biggest city, Basra is a stronghold of Sadr who has recast himself as an anti-corruption campaigner and has allied himself with Abadi.
The prime minister said he would be ready to attend a meeting of parliament with the ministers and officials concerned to try to find a resolution.


Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concerns over Gulf shipping

Updated 22 May 2019
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Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concerns over Gulf shipping

  • The acts of sabotage near the UAE coast highlight new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies
  • Experts say increased threat to navigation and global oil supplies not limited regionally but has global dimension

DUBAI: Amid rising tensions between the US and Iran, sabotage attacks on four commercial vessels off the coast of the UAE’s Fujairah port have raised serious questions about maritime security in the Gulf.

The incidents, which included attacks on two Saudi oil tankers, were revealed by the UAE government on May 12, drawing strong condemnation from governments in the Middle East and around the world as well as the Arab League.

Now experts have warned that the sabotage attacks highlight a new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies.

A Saudi government source said: “This criminal act constitutes a serious threat to the security and safety of maritime navigation, and adversely affects regional and international peace and security.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said the incidents threatened international maritime traffic.

While crimes on the high seas, including piracy, have tapered off in recent years, the attacks on the ships, three of which are registered to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have called into question common assumptions about the Gulf’s stability.

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Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics in Washington D.C., said governments of the Gulf region are mandated to watch over oceans and waterways. “On top of this requirement is the need for a new regime of maritime coordination to prevent attacks on shipping because of the repercussions for logistical chains, corporate strategies and insurance rates,” he told Arab News.

The sabotage attacks took place east of Fujairah port, outside the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway through which most Gulf oil exports pass and which Iran has threatened to block in the event of a military confrontation with the US.

Johan Obdola, president of the International Organization for Security and Intelligence, said the recent attacks underscore the need for closer intelligence-coordinated capabilities among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including satellite communication and maritime or vessel security technology.

“The threats to oil tankers are not limited to the Gulf, but have a global dimension,” he said.

According to Obdola: “A coordinated joint task force integrating oil, intelligence security and military forces should be (established) to project and prepare (for potential future attacks). This is a time to be as united as ever.”

GCC countries have intensified security in international waters, the US navy said. Additionally, two US guided-missile destroyers entered the Gulf on May 16 in response to what the US called signs of possible Iranian aggression.

“The attack has brought (the region) a bit closer to a possible military confrontation amid the escalation in tensions between the US and Iran,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, told Arab News.

He said Iran is purposely dragging Saudi Arabia, the UAE and possibly other Gulf countries into its fight with the US. “The credibility of the US is at stake and Trump has said he will meet any aggression with unrelenting force. If Iran continues on this path, we might see some kind of a military showdown on a limited scale.”

Given the importance of the region’s oil supplies to the US, Abdulla said “it’s not just the responsibility of Arab Gulf states but an international responsibility” to keep the shipping lanes safe.