Iraqi PM says needs more time to tackle corruption

Adel Abdul-Mahdi said the government regrets the deaths of demonstrators and security forces during the recent protests. (Screenshot)
Updated 13 November 2019

Iraqi PM says needs more time to tackle corruption

  • Abdul-Mahdi said the government is working through a budget
  • Abdul-Mahdi said analysts predict that Iraq will enter into a Shiite-Shiite conflict

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s prime minister said on Tuesday that it was unrealistic to hold a government responsible for all the country’s corruption problems when it has only been in office for a few months.

Adel Abdul-Mahdi said the government regrets the deaths of demonstrators and security forces during the recent protests but added that “what is happening in Iraq is a comprehensive reform movement.”

Mass rallies calling for an overhaul of the ruling system have rocked the capital Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south, but political forces closed ranks this week to defend the government.

Abdul-Mahdi, who took his position last year, acknowledged that corruption has accumulated to a high level in Iraq because of what he referred to as the “oil cake.”

“Corruption is a key issue in Iraq and must be addressed,” he told a meeting of ministers and senior Iraqi officials and representatives in Baghdad, adding that the government faces cumulative files from previous governments.

He said that demonstration laws in Iraq must be approved by the interior ministry and should not exceed four hours, yet they have exceeded 40 days.

Abdul-Mahdi said the government is working through a budget allocated for the previous year, adding: “My government came to address the accumulated problems in Iraq ... The storm in the country is not over.”

But he said that the current crisis in Iraq is not related to public services.

Abdul-Mahdi said analysts predict that Iraq will enter into a Shiite-Shiite conflict, but he added: “We want the movement in Iraq only to emerge victorious.” 

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Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi “deplored the death toll” among protesters due to the crackdown of the Iraqi government and urged him to take immediate steps to address demonstrators’ demands, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said on Tuesday.

Iraqi security forces on Monday shot dead two protesters in the city of Nassiriya, bringing to 300 the number of people killed since protests against political corruption, unemployment and poor public services erupted in Baghdad on Oct. 1 and spread to the southern Shiite heartlands.

Hennis-Plasschaert was due to attend a special parliamentary session this week in Baghdad, where demonstrators appeared bolstered by her visit and continued to show their defiance on Tuesday.

“We’re optimistic about the UN and I respect her visit to Sistani,” said one demonstrator, Ali Kadhem, 33, at the main protest site of Tahrir Square.

“Let them intervene more in Iraq. We want them here. Our people were starved, killed. We’ve been through everything.”

Security forces again sealed off Tahrir with concrete blocks, which activists had earlier pulled down, and lobbed sound grenades at teenage boys who had skipped class to protest.

“Our country is dearer to me than my only child,” read one slogan daubed on a street nearby, where the usually bustling mechanics’ shops remained closed amid the unrest.

(With Agencies)


Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost

Updated 12 December 2019

Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost

  • For Oman and other Gulf states dominated by vast deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high cost
  • In Sur, water for residents and businesses comes from a large desalination plant

SUR, OMAN: “We have water, and it’s the most important thing in a house,” says Abdullah Al-Harthi from the port city of Sur in Oman, a country that relies on desalination plants.
But for Oman and the other Gulf countries dominated by vast and scorching deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high financial and environmental cost.
In Sur, south of the capital Muscat, water for residents and businesses comes from a large desalination plant that serves some 600,000 people.
“Before, life was very difficult. We had wells, and water was delivered by trucks,” the 58-year-old told AFP. “Since the 1990s, water has come through pipes and we’ve had no cuts.”
But these benefits — relying on energy intensive processes that produce carbon emissions — do not come without a cost, particularly as global temperatures rise.
The United Nations says 2019 is on course to be one of the hottest three years on record.
And there is another impact: the desalination plants produce highly concentrated salt water, or brine, that is often dumped back into the ocean.
Researchers say more than 16,000 desalination plants around the globe produce more toxic sludge than freshwater.
For every liter of freshwater extracted from the sea or brackish water, a liter-and-a-half of salty slurry is deposed at sea or on land, according to a 2019 study in the journal Science.
All that extra salt raises the temperature of coastal waters and decreases the level of oxygen, which can conspire to create biological “dead zones.”
The super-salty substance is made even more toxic by the chemicals used in the desalination process.
Oman’s bigger neighbors produce the bulk of the brine.
More than half comes from just four countries — Saudi Arabia, at 22 percent, United Arab Emirates with 20 percent, and smaller shares by Kuwait and Qatar, according to UN data.
“Brine production in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar accounts for 55 percent of the total global share,” according to the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.
It said new strategies are needed “to limit the negative environmental impacts and reduce the economic cost of disposal.”
This would help “to safeguard water supplies for current and future generations.”
At the Sur plant, “almost no chemicals” are used during the pre-treatment phase, as the water is naturally filtered through the cracks of karst rocks, said Mahendran Senapathy, operations manager at French company Veolia which runs the plant along with an Omani firm.
There are other ways to safeguard freshwater supplies, from encouraging savings and efficiently to recycling wastewater.
Antoine Frerot, chief executive of Veolia, said wastewater recycling will help resolve the problem of water scarcity.
He also pointed out that “reused water is less costly,” nearly one third less than that won through desalination.
Omani authorities continue to mount campaigns urging people to use water wisely, mindful that other demands — especially the energy sector — also guzzle up large amounts.
Across the Gulf, huge amounts of water are used not just for homes, gardens and golf courses, but also for the energy sector that is the source of the region’s often spectacular wealth.
On the edge of the Arabian peninsula’s “Empty Quarter,” the world’s largest expanse of sand, lies the Khazzan gas field, operated by BP and the Oman Oil Company.
The method used to extract the gas here is hydraulic fracturing — more commonly known as fracking — said Stewart Robertson, operations manager at the site.
The method requires huge amounts of water. The site is supplied by a facility that provides 6,000 cubic meters of water a day, extracted from an underground aquifer 50 kilometers (30 miles) away.
Fracking involves directional drilling and then pumping water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to fracture rock and release the hydrocarbons.
The rock formations that hold the gas are “like a big sponge with lots of little holes in it,” said Robertson, explaining that fracking is the process “to open those holes slightly to take the gas out.”
So the more the region extracts oil and natural or shale gas, “the more they need water,” said Charles Iceland of the World Resources Institute.
“The Middle East is projected to need more and more energy,” he said. “So that means the situation is going to get worse.”
“On the other hand,” he said, “if they can produce power using solar photovoltaic technologies, which are getting reasonably priced in the Middle East, that would take care of a lot of the problem because solar PV doesn’t need much water.
“You need just some water to clean the solar panels.”