Iranian Consulate in Basra set on fire

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Iraqi protesters set fire to the Iranian Consulate in Basra on Friday. (AP)
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Iraqi protesters set fire to the Iranian Consulate in Basra on Friday. (AFP)
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Iraqi protesters set fire to the Iranian Consulate in Basra on Friday. (AFP)
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Iraqi protesters set fire to the Iranian Consulate in Basra on Friday. (AP)
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Iraqi protesters set fire to the Iranian Consulate in Basra on Friday. (AP)
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Iraqi protesters are seen near the burnt Iranian Consulate in Basra, Iraq September 7, 2018. (Reuters)
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Iraqi protesters are seen near the burnt Iranian Consulate in Basra, Iraq September 7, 2018. (Reuters)
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Iraqi protesters are seen near the burnt Iranian Consulate in Basra, Iraq September 7, 2018. (Reuters)
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Iraqi protesters are seen near the burnt Iranian Consulate in Basra, Iraq September 7, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 08 September 2018

Iranian Consulate in Basra set on fire

  • Thousands of demonstrators rallied outside the building while hundreds went inside the consulate and set it ablaze
  • Basra has seen a surge in protests since Tuesday

BASRA: Protesters set fire to the Iranian Consulate in Basra on Friday, after a week of violent protests during which at least nine people were killed.

The building was the latest to be attacked during demonstrations in Iraq’s main oil hub after a summer of unrest fueled by anger at substandard basic services, corruption and a lack of jobs.

The demonstrations escalated this week, stoked by politicians attempting to influence a political standoff in Baghdad between the pro and anti-Iranian blocs in Parliament.

Friday had been mostly calm until evening approached, when protesters again went on the rampage. The Iranian Consulate in the south-east of the city was targeted and the outer walls set on fire. It not immediately clear how badly it was damaged or whether protesters had made it inside, although some reports said the building had been stormed.

The previous night, protesters set fire to the offices of dozens of political factions and their associated television stations. The demonstrators threatened to burn more if the leaders of the parties tried to intervene in the protests or hijack them for their own ends, local advocates and officials said.

The protests, which began in June, initially were prompted by anger over inadequate electricity supplies but this week they have been focused on the lack of clean water.

They turned violent when security forces fired live bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters who were attempting to break into a local government building in central Basra, attacking troops outside with Molotov cocktails. Two demonstrators were seriously wounded, and one of them died hours later.

On Tuesday evening, the demonstrations were even more violent, as one of the protesters attacked a group of Iraqi security forces with a hand grenade, killing one officer and wounding others. A separate group of demonstrators attacked troops with Molotov cocktails. In both attacks, the troops responded by firing live bullets and tear gas.

By the end of the night, several government buildings were on fire, and at least nine protesters had been shot dead. In addition, 93 people were wounded, including dozens of members of the security services, medics and police, sources said. 

There was less violence during Thursday evening’s protests after the federal authorities in Baghdad issued orders to all forces in Basra not to clash with the demonstrators as long as they were nowhere close to oil installations, according to local security officials.

The demonstrators changed their targets from local-government buildings to the headquarters of political parties and their media wings. More than 20 offices and local TV stations were attacked, including the headquarters of some of the most prominent Shiite armed factions, including Badr organization and Assaib Ahl Al-Haq.

“We burned these headquarters to tell them that we can do it. Burning their headquarters is just the beginning,” said one of the organizers of the demonstrations.

“By burning their offices, we just sent them a message saying that the security forces and the governmental buildings are not our target — you (the political parties) are our target.”

Basra contains Iraq’s biggest oil fields and the revenues from its crude exports represent the backbone of the Iraqi economy. Destabilizing the security of the city is in the interest of many regional and local parties. The events there this week coincide with a conflict in Baghdad as Iraqi political forces loyal to Iran and those loyal to the United States compete to gain more influence in the negotiations to form the next government.

Clerics in Najaf, envoys and international organizations in Iraq have called for calm and for the security forces to avoid using excessive force against demonstrators.

Muqtada Al-Sadr, one of the most influential Shiite clerics, on Thursday called on outgoing Prime Minister Haider Abadi to accelerate the disbursement of funds required to finance water and electricity projects in Basra, and address the demands of the people of the province.

Also on Friday, demonstrators returned to stage a sit-in protest in Abdul Karim Qasim square in central Basra. Groups of them also began to clear nearby streets of the debris from the previous days’ protests. Videos circulated by activists on Friday showed hundreds of young people collecting waste from the streets in large, yellow containers, while others played music or held small banners with the words: “This is the ethics of the people of Basra.”

“We have decided to stop for a while to give the local and central governments a chance to respond to our demands,” said Kadhim Al-Sahlani, a local activist in Basra.

“For now, we will continue our sit-in until further notice, but if the troops attack us again or something happens, we will deal with the developments one by one.”

Kurds split on next Iraqi president and throw government formation into further turmoil

Updated 26 September 2018

Kurds split on next Iraqi president and throw government formation into further turmoil

  • The failure of the Kurds to agree on a single candidate will threaten the stability of the Kurdish region
  • A close ally of KDP leader Massoud Barzani has been backed as a presidential nomination

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s main Kurdish political forces have failed to agree on a candidate for the post of president, highlighting the depth of the rift  between them and redrawing their map of influence in Baghdad, negotiators told Arab News.

Electing the president is the second step in the process of forming a government. According to the political power sharing agreement adopted by Iraqi political parties since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, the post is allocated to the Kurds.

By the end of Monday, the last day for nominations, more than 30 candidates, including a woman, had declared their nominations for the post but the absence of consensus between the Kurdish parties on a single candidate, meant the vote was delayed until Thursday.

The president in the Iraqi constitution does not have wide executive powers, but could play a pivotal role in resolving disputes between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, and between the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish powers in Baghdad. 

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the largest Kurdish parties in Iraq control more than 50 seats in parliament. The two parties have shared the federal posts allocated to the Kurds for the last 15 years. Voting for the PUK’s presidential candidate had become a tradition, but the insistence of the KDP to compete for the post this time has confused Iraq’s parties and forced them to renegotiate.

“It is time to get this position back to the larger Kurdish bloc,” Irdlan Noor Al-Deen, a KDP leader and MP said. “We are insisting to compete for the post ... and we will not discuss the option of stepping down.”

The failure of the Kurds to agree on a single candidate will threaten the stability of the Kurdish region and deepen the disagreement between the two Kurdish parties that arose in October last year when Kurdish forces associated with the PUK refused to fight Iraqi security forces after they launched a campaign to regain central government control over the disputed areas between Baghdad and Erbil. The offensive was in response to the independence  referendum held a month earlier.

The two parties are squaring up in elections scheduled for next week for the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Azad Warti, a PUK leader, said that if the political “fire” from the KDP continued after the elections “we will review our relationship with them.”

“There are a lot of joints areas between us ... and continuing with this approach means that we may not continue with them in the same front,” he said.

Last week, the PUK’s leadership nominated the Kurdish veteran politician Barham Salih, while the KDP nominated Fuad Hussein, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Presidency Office and personal secretary of Massoud Barzani, the most prominent Kurdish leader and former president of the Kurdish region.

It is not clear why Barzani, who headed the KDP, suddenly insisted on the presidential candidacy. Some observers see this step as an attempt to seek revenge against the Kurdish and Shiite forces that rejected the independence referendum and supported Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi when he imposed a series of financial and administrative sanctions on Kurdistan.

“Barzani is looking to get revenge from the leaders of the PUK because he believes that they let him down in his battle with Baghdad when he held the referendum,” Abdulwahid Tuama, a political analyst told Arab News.

“Also, getting the post for the KDP candidate will reinforce the divisions between the PUK and its Kurdish allies in Baghdad, and this will provide the KDP with a great opportunity to be the touchstone in the ongoing negotiations to form a government in Baghdad.”

The major Shiite blocs, which initially declared their support for Barham Salih, have now said they do not mind if the KDP takes over the president, but stipulated the replacement of the party's official candidate.

“Fouad Hussein was rejected by all Shiite political forces. We told Barzani that we have no objection to voting for his candidate, but he has to nominate someone else,” A key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“Hussein is the private secretary of Barzani and if he is elected as president of Iraq, it means that the president will be Barzani’s secretary.

“This is an insult to the country and to all, and we will never accept it.”

Iran and the United States have been the most prominent international players in Iraq since 2003. Both are deeply involved in the ongoing negotiations between Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties. 

Brett McGurk, the US envoy to Iraq and Syria, has played a key role in naming Barham Salih as a candidate for the PUK, while Gen. Qassim Sulaimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, flew to Erbil on Sunday evening to meet Barzani and “persuade him to abandon his stubbornness and accept a compromise that excludes both candidates (Salih and Hussein),” two Shiite negotiators told Arab News. 

“Sulaimani went last night to Erbil to smooth the tension and try to find a solution that would be accepted by all the related parties,” a key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“He will suggest to provide a new candidate who should be accepted by all Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties. 

The negotiator said parliament may vote to reelect Fuad Massum, the outgoing Iraqi president, as he is accepted by all.