NASIRIYAH: Protests erupted on Wednesday in Iraq’s impoverished south over a rise in food prices that officials attributed to the conflict in Ukraine.
For about a week, the price of cooking oils and flour have skyrocketed in local markets as government officials have sought to address growing anger with various statements and measures.
More than 500 protesters gathered in a central square in the southern city of Nasiriyah — a flashpoint of anti-corruption protests that gripped the country in 2019.
“The rise in prices is strangling us, whether it is bread or other food products,” retired teacher Hassan Kazem said. “We can barely make ends meet.”
On Tuesday, the Iraqi government announced measures to confront the increase in international prices.
These included a monthly allowance of about $70 for pensioners whose income does not exceed 1 million dinars (almost $700), as well as civil servants earning less than 500,000 dinars.
The authorities also announced the suspension of customs duties on food products, basic consumer goods and construction materials for two months.
Trade Ministry spokesman Mohamed Hanoun attributed the rise in cooking oil prices to the conflict in Ukraine.
“There’s a major global crisis because Ukraine has a large share of (the world market in cooking) oils,” he said.
On Tuesday, a protester was seriously injured in a demonstration in the central province of Babil that was marred by violence, a security source said.
The Interior Ministry announced it had arrested 31 people accused of “raising the prices of food commodities and abusing citizens.”
A protester in Nasiriyah on Wednesday denounced the “greed of traders who manipulate prices.”
Both Russia and Ukraine are major producers of foodstuffs, including sunflower oil and wheat, and the Middle East is particularly dependent on imports from the two countries.
More than 600 people were killed and tens of thousands injured during the demonstrations.
Meanwhile, mosques, churches and century-old houses are being brought back to life in Mosul’s Old City, which the Daesh group seized as its stronghold before being pushed out in mid-2017.
“Al-Hadba is the icon of Mosul, the symbol of the city,” said Omar Taqa, a supervising engineer with UNESCO, the UN heritage body which has launched several projects to restore the city’s landmarks.
The minaret was featured on Iraqi 10,000-dinar banknotes before the jihadists flew their black flag from the top of its 45-meter spire.
Daesh chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi made his only confirmed public appearance in July 2014 at the Al-Nuri Mosque, where he declared the establishment of a “caliphate.”
Three years later Iraq’s army and a US-led international coalition had forced the jihadists out of Iraq’s second city.
The Al-Nuri Mosque, and the adjacent leaning minaret — nicknamed Al-Hadba or the “hunchback” — were destroyed in June 2017 during the battle to take back the city.
Iraqi authorities had accused Daesh of planting explosives there before their withdrawal. “We found 11 mines there, ready to be activated,” said Taqa. “Some were hidden inside walls.”
Only the central area of the mosque remains, its dome propped up on arches supported by wooden wedges. Atop the columns of grey marble, traces of blue enhance the adjoining capitals.