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Monday , February 17 2020

Police disperse Basra protests

An Iraqi man walks past burning tires as protesters block the main road between the centre of the southern city of Basra leading towards Karmat Ali on its northern outskirts on Sept 2. (AFP)

BASRA, Iraq, Sept 2, (Agencies): Police used tear gas to disperse around 150 protesters at the main entrance to Iraq’s giant Nahr Bin Omar oilfield on Sunday, police sources said, amid growing unrest in southern cities over poor public services and corruption. Officials at the field in the southern oil hub of Basra said operations were running normally.

Production from Nahr Bin Omar, which is operated by the state-run Basra Oil Co., now stands at around 44,000 barrels per day, oilfield officials said.

On Friday, hundreds of Iraqi protesters stoned and tried to break into the provincial government headquarters in the southern oil hub of Basra demanding better public services and an end to pervasive corruption. Around 3,000 people gathered there again on Sunday and set fire to tyres outside.

Protesters threatened to break into the field if the government did not respond to their demands to improve basic services and address their complaints over Basra’s drinking water, which residents say is undrinkable due to high salt levels. “We will not allow the oilfield to operate unless we get clean water. No services, no jobs and now no clean water. We are fed up,” said Hassan Ali, a protest organiser. Iraqi political blocs are attempting to form a coalition government after a May 12 parliamentary election tainted by allegations of fraud.

Oil exports from Basra account for more than 95 percent of OPEC producer Iraq’s state revenues. Any potential disruptions to production could severely impact Iraq’s limping economy. Police also dispersed protesters who tried to prevent trucks moving on a main road to the east of Basra which leads to a border crossing with Iran, customs and police officials said. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke Saturday with two Iraqi leaders to express support for Iraq’s efforts to form a “moderate, nationalist” government that would serve all Iraqis, his spokeswoman said.

The results of Iraq’s parliamentary elections were ratified two weeks ago, paving the way for a new parliament to convene and elect a president and a prime minister, who would form a new government. The process is complicated by political wrangling. A coalition led by maverick Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr won the largest number of seats, 54, followed by an alliance of government-sanctioned militias known as Hashed, with 47.

In his call with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Pompeo “emphasized the importance of safeguarding Iraq’s sovereignty during this critical time,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. He also spoke with Vice President Ayad Allawi, expressing US hopes that the new Iraqi government “includes all communities and serves all of the Iraqi people.” Pompeo also tweeted his concern with the political situation in Iraq, saying he had just spoken with Brett McGurk, the special US presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat the Islamic State, who was in Baghdad.

“Doing a great job. Forming a strong Iraqi government on national basis is essential to the enduring defeat of #ISIS,” Pompeo tweeted. Senior Iraqi military commanders hosted their Russian, Iranian and Syrian counterparts in Baghdad on Saturday to discuss security cooperation and information-sharing in the Middle East, where the Islamic State group continues to carry out attacks.

The Iraqi defence ministry said it had received delegations led by their respective deputy chiefs of staff, to “strengthen cooperation and coordination in terms of security and intelligence between these countries”. Russia is fighting rebels and jihadists in Syria alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, while Iran is a key ally of both Baghdad and Damascus.

The four countries had created joint operations rooms to coordinate the fight against IS, now driven out of all urban centres in Iraq and largely confined to desert holdouts in Syria. In a rare address last month, the jihadist group’s leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi urged his followers to continue their fight. According to jihadist expert Hisham al-Hashemi, there are still 2,000 IS fighters — nearly all of them Iraqi – active in four regions of Iraq. Their aim is “to take revenge on those that ousted them”, he said.

Despite major setbacks in Iraq and Syria, in July IS managed to carry out a string of coordinated attacks in southern Syria that killed more than 250 people. With artificial limbs in the place of legs they lost to jihadists, a group of Iraqis plunged into a swimming pool for a special race aimed at helping them overcome the horrors of war. Abdel Zahra Kazem, a soldier from southern Iraq who was wounded in an attack in Baghdad, said getting back in the pool had helped him to rediscover one of his passions in life.

“I’ve swum since I was a child and today I can start again,” he said by the poolside at a hotel in Arbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. Rabie Abdellatif lost a leg in an attack by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in Iraq’s second city Mosul, which was left in ruins by the government’s battle against the jihadists. Thanks to his artificial limb, he said he has recovered “80 percent of my capabilities from life before”.

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