Iraq parliament holds emergency talks as Basra burns

Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi described the unrest as “political sabotage” as he joined the session with several ministers. (File/AFP)
Updated 08 September 2018
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Iraq parliament holds emergency talks as Basra burns

  • Basra has been rocked by protests since Tuesday, with demonstrators setting ablaze government buildings, the Iranian consulate and the offices of pro-Tehran militias and political parties
  • Iraq suffers from persistent corruption and many Iraqis complain that the country’s oil wealth is unfairly distributed

BAGHDAD: Iraqi lawmakers met Saturday in emergency session Saturday to discuss the crisis in public services in main southern city Basra after 12 protesters were killed, the Iranian consulate torched and the airport hit by rockets.
Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi described the unrest as “political sabotage” as he joined the session with several ministers.
Basra has been rocked by protests since Tuesday, with demonstrators setting ablaze government buildings, the Iranian consulate and the offices of pro-Tehran militias and political parties.
The anger flared after the hospitalization of 30,000 people who had drunk polluted water, in an oil-rich region where residents have for weeks complained of water and electricity shortages, corruption among officials and unemployment.
At least 12 demonstrators have been killed and 50 wounded in clashes with security forces, according to the interior ministry.

Iraqi officials announced Saturday a citywide curfew for Basra starting at 4pm local time, a military statement said.
Hours before parliament met, four rockets fired by unidentified assailants struck inside the perimeter of Basra airport, security sources said.
Staff at the airport, which is located near the US consulate in Basra, said flights were not affected.
The attack came after a day of rage in the southern city where hundreds of protesters stormed the fortified Iranian consulate, causing no casualties but sparking condemnation.
Abadi said he had instructed security forces to “act decisively against the acts of vandalism that accompanied the demonstrations”.
Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, which includes the army and police, vowed a “severe” response with “exceptional security measures”, including a ban on protests and group travel.
The foreign ministry called the attack on the consulate “an unacceptable act undermining the interests of Iraq and its international relations”.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi denounced the “savage attack”, Iran’s Fars news agency reported.
A spokesman for the consulate said that all diplomats and staff had been evacuated from the building before the protesters attacked, and that none were hurt.
Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi, said the consulate was “totally demolished” and charged that “foreign agents close to the US, Zionists and some Arab countries are trying to sabotage Iran-Iraq relations”, Iran’s ILNA news agency reported.
The wave of protests first broke out in Basra in July before spreading to other parts of the country, with demonstrators condemning corruption among Iraqi officials and demanding jobs.
Since then at least 27 people have been killed.
“We’re thirsty, we’re hungry, we are sick and abandoned,” protester Ali Hussein told AFP on Friday after another night of violence.
“Demonstrating is a sacred duty and all honest people ought to join.”
The anger on Basra’s streets was “in response to the government’s intentional policy of neglect” of the oil-rich region, the head of the region’s human rights council Mehdi Al-Tamimi said.
Iraq has been struggling to rebuild its infrastructure and economy after decades of bloody conflicts, including an eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s, the US-led invasion of 2003 and the battle against Daesh.
In August, the oil ministry announced that crude exports for August had hit their highest monthly figure this year, with nearly 112 million barrels of oil bringing $7.7 billion to state coffers.
Iraq, however, suffers from persistent corruption and many Iraqis complain that the country’s oil wealth is unfairly distributed.
Parliament said lawmakers will hear speeches by Abadi and key ministers and discuss the water contamination crisis, the latest breakdown in public services to spark public anger.
The meeting was demanded by populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose political bloc won the largest number of seats in May elections although a new government has yet to be formed.
“If the situation remains unchanged we will be heading toward the formation of an emergency government,” warned Intissar Hassan, an MP elected to represent Basra.
She was referring to a constitutional provision that would give the prime minister full powers to act.
Sadr has called on politicians to present “radical and immediate” solutions at Saturday’s session or step down.
Abadi pledged in July a multi-billion dollar emergency plan to revive infrastructure and services in southern Iraq, one of the country’s most marginalized regions.
The prime minister is trying to hold onto his post in the next government and has formed an alliance with Sadr, a former militia chief who has called for Iraq to have greater political independence from both neighboring Iran and the United States.


Iran video threatens missile strikes on UAE, Saudi Arabia

Updated 25 September 2018
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Iran video threatens missile strikes on UAE, Saudi Arabia

TEHRAN: An Iranian media outlet close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) published a video on Tuesday threatening the capitals of Saudi Arabia and the UAE with missile attacks.
The video tweeted and later deleted by the semi-official Fars news agency comes as Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed Riyadh and Abu Dhabi for an attack on a military parade in the city of Ahvaz on Saturday.
The video shows file footage of previous ballistic missile attacks launched by the Guard, then a graphic of a sniper rifle scope homing in on Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The video also threatened Israel.
"The era of the hit-and-run has expired," Khamenei's voice is heard in the video, the segment taken from an April speech by the supreme leader. "A heavy punishment is underway."
Iran has fired its ballistic missiles twice in anger in recent years. In 2017, responding to an Daesh attack on Tehran, the IRGC fired missiles striking targets in Syria. Then, earlier this month, it launched a strike on a meeting of Iranian Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq.
The IRGC, a paramilitary force answerable only to Khamenei, has sole control over Iran's ballistic missile program.
Under Khamenei's orders, Iran now limits its ballistic missiles to a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), which gives Tehran the range to strike Israel, Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as regional American military bases.
Saturday's attack targeted one of many parades in Iran marking the start of the country's long 1980s war with Iraq, part of a commemoration known as "Sacred Defense Week." Militants disguised as soldiers opened fire as rows of troops marched past officials in Ahvaz.
Arab separatists in the region claimed the attack and Iranian officials have blamed them for the assault. The separatists accuse Iran's government of discriminating against its ethnic Arab minority. Iran's Khuzestan province, where Ahvaz is the provincial capital, also has seen recent protests over Iran's nationwide drought, as well as economic protests.
Daesh also claimed Saturday's attack, initially offering incorrect information about it and later publishing a video of three men it identified as the attackers. The men in the video, however, did not pledge allegiance or otherwise identify themselves as Daesh followers.
Iranian state TV reported that authorities have detained 22 people linked to the group behind the attack and confiscated ammunition and communication equipment. Fars also reported that five militants took part in the assault, all of whom were killed. It said two of them were brothers and another one was their cousin.
On Monday, the IRGC's acting commander, Gen. Hossein Salami, vowed revenge against the perpetrators and what he called the "triangle" of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States.
"You are responsible for these actions; you will face the repercussions," the general said. "We warn all of those behind the story, we will take revenge."
Khamenei said Monday that the attack showed Iran has "a lot of enemies." He linked the attackers to the United States, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
"Definitely, we will harshly punish the operatives" behind the terror attack, he said.