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Iraqi PM assures Amir on protests – Police disperse protesters

Speaker Marzouq Ali Al-Ghanim chairs a meeting involving some lawmakers and senior government officials to discuss the happenings in Iraq

KUWAIT CITY/BAGHDAD, July 17: Iraq’s Ambassador in Kuwait Alaa Al-Hashemi said Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi assured His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al- Jaber Al-Sabah about ongoing developments in some provinces in southern Iraq. Al-Hashemi, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a ceremony marking the anniversary of China People’s Liberation Army at China’s embassy, praised His Highness the Amir’s initiative to help Iraq overcome the protests.

His Highness the Amir “is a man of wise initiatives and positions,” he said. Al-Hashemi said developments in some southern provinces “are domestic affairs which were used by Iraqi politicians for electoral gains.” Al-Abadi assured His Highness the Amir, during a phone call yesterday, that security remains intact in Iraq amid nationwide protests over poor state services, lack of job opportunities, electricity outages, poor water supply, financial and administrative corruption.

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. Parliament Speaker Marzouq Al- Ghanim pointed out that it is safe to say there is no need to worry based on the results of the parliamentary meeting with the government regarding the recent demonstrations in neighbouring Iraq.

The meeting took place Tuesday morning at the National Assembly Office with acting Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah; Deputy Premier, Minister of Interior and acting Minister of Defence Sheikh Khaled Al-Jarrah Al-Sabah; State Minister for Cabinet Affairs Anas Al-Saleh, State Minister for National Assembly Affairs Adel Al- Jaralah Al-Kharafi, 23 MPs, and a number of officers representing the Kuwaiti Armed Forces in attendance.

Speaking to the media after the meeting, Al-Ghanim said, “We experienced the bitter reality during the Iraqi invasion. We will not make the same mistake twice.” For this reason, the Speaker asserted that the Parliament shoulder the responsibility of informing the public about the latest developments on the matter at hand.

He revealed the minister of foreign affairs confirmed during the meeting that there is currently a high level of coordination between the Kuwaiti authorities and their Iraqi counterparts, assuring the MPs present at the meeting that the government and Kuwaiti Armed Forces are fully prepared for anything which might arise from this issue.

On the other hand, State Minister for Cabinet Affairs Anas Al-Saleh disclosed the government and the Kuwaiti Armed Forces clarified developments at the borders; affirming there is no threat to the security of the country, but all the concerned authorities are fully coordinating with each other in case of any emergency.

Al-Saleh stressed the Kuwaiti government is keen on maintaining security in Iraq as it directly affects our own security. He added Kuwait’s stance on neighbouring Iraq remains unchanged, indicating it will continue its directive about cooperation and stable diplomatic relations embodied in the initiative of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah at the International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq held in Kuwait on Feb 12, 2018 resulting in the collection of $30 billion for the support of Iraq.

Asked if the country needs a department for responding to crisis as some MPs have proposed, Al-Ghanim said the country has a central operations unit at the Ministry of Interior and this unit responds not only to crisis and security issues, but to almost everything — from food security to cyber crimes which aim to destabilize the public.

He stressed that alongside his fellow MPs, he believes every citizen has the obligation to be a watchman for the country, keeping an eye for any form of provocation from inside or outside sources which have no proof or evidence as their only aim is to cause panic and tension in the country. He added that in case anything happens, every citizen must ensure all measures taken by the authorities are executed properly and efficiently.

Protesters dispersed
Iraqi police wielded batons and rubber hoses to disperse about 250 protesters gathered at the main entrance to the Zubair oilfield near Basra on Tuesday as unrest across southern cities over poor basic services gathered pace.

Since demonstrations began nine days ago, protesters have attacked government buildings, branches of political parties and powerful Shi’ite militias and stormed the international airport in the holy city of Najaf. Iraq’s military spokesman said authorities would not tolerate any actions that threaten the country’s security.

Officials and industry sources said the protests have not affected output at Zubair, run by Italy’s Eni, and the other major oilfields including Rumaila developed by BP and West Qurna 2 managed by Lukoil. Many Iraqis believe their leaders do not share the country’s oil wealth. Some demonstrators said foreign labourers were robbing them of employment at oil companies.

Three protesters have been killed in clashes with police, including one at West Qurna 2, and dozens wounded. “We the people of Basra hear about the Iraqi oil and its huge revenues, but we never enjoy its benefits,” said 24-year-old protester Esam Jabbar. “Strangers have decent jobs at our oilfields and we don’t have the money to pay for a cigarette.

That’s wrong and must be stopped.” Jabbar said he was unemployed. At the gate of Zubair field, police beat protesters on their backs and legs with batons and rubber hoses, witnesses said. Blood ran down one policeman’s face after protesters hurled stones. Policemen also threw sand to put out tyres that the protesters had set ablaze.

Iraq is the second-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries after Saudi Arabia. Crude exports account for 95 percent of state revenue and any disruptions could badly damage its already limping economy at a time when Iraq needs tens of billions of dollars to rebuild after the three-year war with Islamic State. Prolonged instability in the south could drive up global oil prices.

Production at the Zubair field was 475,000 bpd, an Iraqi oil official said in May. Iraq exported an average of 3.566 million barrels per day from its southern oilfields so far in July, said senior oil officials, levels confirming that the troubles have not disrupted crude shipments from the region. Demonstrators, who have endured sweltering heat to press their demands, show no sign of letting up.

They have vented anger in Basra, the biggest city in the south, Samawa, Amara, Nassiriya, Najaf, Kerbala and Hilla. “We will not allow anyone to tamper with security and order by encroaching on public, private and government institutions and also economic institutions,” military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool told a news conference. Protests over the same issues have occurred in the past. The unrest this time is more widespread and is politically sensitive.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is seeking a second term after a May 12 parliamentary election tainted by allegations of corruption. Politicians are struggling to form a coalition government. Populist Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose political bloc won the majority in the poll, may now be in a stronger position to influence the choice of prime minister. He defeated Iranian-backed rivals by promising to generate jobs, help the poor and eradicate corruption.

The Shi’ite heartland south has long been neglected despite its oil wealth, first by Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein and then Shi’ite-led governments after him, including Abadi’s. Fetid piles of garbage can be seen on many Basra streets. Stagnant water with sewage has caused health problems and tap water is sometime contaminated with mud and dust. Electricity is cut off for seven hours a day.

Murtadha Rahman, 22, ran barefoot on the scorching pavement to try and escape a charge by police outside the Zubair field. “I live in a place which is rich with oil that brings billions of dollars while I work in collecting garbage to desperately feed my two kids. I want a simple job, that’s my only demand,” said Rahman, who said he was beaten by police. “I won’t go even if you kill me I will stay here. I want a job.” In a meeting with government officials carried on state television, Abadi promised to allocate funds for water and electricity in Basra, once dubbed the “Venice of the Middle East” for its network of canals

By Ahmed Al-Naqeeb Arab Times Staff and Agencies


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