GOVERNMENT TO BRIEF MPs; KUWAIT READY TO ASSIST: AMIR
KUWAIT CITY/BASRA, Iraq, July 15: Dozens of demonstrators were wounded in southern Iraq Sunday in clashes with police as protests over unemployment and a lack of basic services entered a second week, officials said. National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanim has announced that the government will discuss the recent events in neighbouring Iraq with the Assembly on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters, Al-Ghanim disclosed this is in response to the request of several MPs; affirming that Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled agreed on holding the meeting at the National Assembly office on Tuesday morning.
Besides Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled, acting Minister of Defense and Minister of Interior Sheikh Khaled Al-Jarrah and State Minister for Cabinet Affairs Anas Al-Saleh will attend the meeting to respond to questions of MPs, as well as elaborate on preparations being made to respond to all possible outcomes. On the other hand, Chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee MP Hamad Al-Hershani pointed out that the issue in Iraq is internal and aimed at reform.
He wonders why demonstrators are pushing towards Safwan border. “What does it have to do with reforms?” he asked. He asserted this factor should not be disregarded, hoping there is no ulterior motive behind such acts. He called on all the concerned authorities to remain vigilant and closely follow up developments in this regard. Al-Abadi has, meanwhile, assured His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah that security remains intact in Iraq amid nationwide protests over poor state services and a lack of job opportunities.
In a phone conversation they had on Sunday, the Iraqi prime minister and His Highness the Amir also discussed issues of mutual concern, with Al-Abadi wishing Kuwait perpetual development and prosperity.
His Highness the Amir told the Iraqi premier that Kuwait stands ready to assist its neighbor to overcome the current turmoil, emphasizing that stability in Baghdad is among Kuwait’s chief concerns. The Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior (MoI) on Saturday rebuffed a video circulated on social media showing violence near the Kuwaiti- Iraqi border, billing it as totally untrue and baseless. “The reported video claims that there is violence near an oilfield on the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border is completely divorced from reality,” the ministry’s security media department said in a statement.
The said video, in fact, shows violence near Al-Qarna Oilfield located in northern Basra, rather than near the Kuwaiti border, according to the statement. The ministry urged users of social media to seek only credible reports that are pertinent to the country’s national and public security, while vowing to take legal action against those involved in the posting of this “affronting” video.
Earlier in the day, the Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry said the situation in the northern borders of Kuwait is totally under control with no incident occurring because of the protests in Iraq. The State of Kuwait is closely monitoring the situation and developments in Iraq, said a Foreign Ministry source in a statement, hoping that the situation would be back to normal in Iraq very soon. The protests hit several provinces including Basra, despite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announcing fresh funds and pledges of investment for the oil-rich but neglected region.
The internet had been out of service across the country for 48 hours. In the city of Basra, demonstrators tried to storm the governor’s headquarters but were dispersed by police who fired tear gas at them, an AFP reporter said.
Police also fired tear gas at stonethrowing demonstrators who tried to push their way into the Zubeir oil field south of the city, the reporter said. Several people, including journalists, were overcome by the gas, the reporter said. In Nasiriyah, provincial capital of neighbouring Dhi Qar province, 15 demonstrators and 25 policemen were injured in clashes, deputy health director Abdel Hussein al-Jabri said. The clashes, including hand-to-hand combat, erupted when the demonstrators gathered outside the governor’s office and pelted security forces with stones.
In Muthana province bordering Basra, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the governor’s headquarters and some torched parts of the building, a police source said. Protesters in Muthana also set fire to the offices of the Iranian-backed Badr organisation in the province’s largest city of Samawa. On Saturday, protesters had set alight Badr’s headquarters in Basra, prompting authorities to impose an overnight curfew across the whole province.
In the Shiite shrine city of Najaf, security forces dispersed a large protest on Sunday morning, an AFP correspondent said. A large contingent from Saraya al- Salam, a paramilitary force loyal to prominent Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr who won May elections, also deployed in the streets. Demonstrators also packed the streets of the holy central city of Karbala on Saturday night and clashed with police outside the offices of the governor. An AFP reporter in the city said police fired into the air as demonstrators threw stones at them, adding that at least 30 people were wounded in the clashes.
The unrest first erupted last Sunday when security forces opened fire, killing one person, as youths demonstrated in Basra demanding jobs and accusing the government of failing to provide basic services including electricity. Two more demonstrators died from gunshot wounds following protests overnight Friday, although it was not clear who killed them.
The protests — which have spread north to Baghdad — come as Iraq struggles to rebuild after three-year war against Islamic State group jihadists, which has ravaged their country’s infrastructure. Oil-rich Iraq has been rocked by a series of conflicts since the 1980s and says it needs $88 billion to rebuild after the war on IS. Officially, 10.8 percent of Iraqis are jobless, while youth unemployment is twice as high, in a country where 60 percent of the population is aged under 24.
The oil sector accounts for 89 percent of the state budget and 99 percent of Iraq’s export revenues, but only one percent of jobs, as the majority of posts are filled by foreigners. On Saturday evening, the prime minister announced investment worth $3 billion (2.6 billion euros) for Basra province, as well as pledging additional spending on housing, schools and services.
lydubai, Royal Jordanian have halted flights to the Iraqi city of Najaf “due to the disruption on the ground” at the airport, airline officials said on Sunday. Najaf airport was closed on Friday after protests there halted air traffic. Najaf is among the cities in southern Iraq that have witnessed days of protests over poor services and against alleged official corruption.
Flydubai, which operates a daily return flight from Dubai to Najaf, is monitoring the situation, an airline spokeswoman said. Royal Jordanian said Najaf is the ninth destination in the region — from Mosul in Iraq to Aden and Sanaa in Yemen — to which it has suspended flights due to turmoil in recent years. Flights from Iran to Najaf will be diverted to Baghdad, Iran’s state television reported on Sunday. “Due to problems at Najaf airport … Iranian planes will take their passengers to Baghdad airport,” Reza Jafarzadeh, spokesman for Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, was cited as saying. He did not say how many flights were affected.
By Ahmed Al-Naqeeb Arab-Times Staff and Agencies