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Baraa al-Shamari

Iraq protesters block roads to Basra's oil fields

Basra's citizens demand jobs in the local oil industry [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 12 October, 2015

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Demonstrators blocked roads in the oil rich Iraqi port city of Basra on Monday to protest against corruption, unemployment and crime.

Angry protesters blocked roads in Iraq's Basra province, 590 km south of Baghdad, that lead to the main oil fields in the province on Monday morning to protest against poor economic conditions, rampant unemployment and poverty, and a rise in the rate of crime, disease and what they described as ignorance.

The protesters also demanded jobs in the oil sector for Basra's citizens.

Security officials in Basra said that hundreds of protesters blocked the roads leading to the main oil production fields in the northern part of the province and prevented lorries from entering or leaving.

Anti-riot police forces tried to disperse the demonstrators and clerics were involved as mediators. Leading protesters rejected the clerics' mediation and threw stones at one of them, accusing him of corruption, after he arrived at the scene to convince them to quit.

Haider Sobhi, one of the protest leaders, told al-Araby al-Jadeed: "Hundreds of protesters gathered and blocked the roads that go through the town of Ad-Dayr in the north of the province to demand job opportunities and cancel deals with security companies that consume a large proportion of the budget."

Sobhi pointed out that the protesters decided to block the roads after months of procrastination and unfulfilled promises on the part of both the local and federal governments, to reduce expenses granted to private companies that are tasked with protecting officials.

"We will go on protesting and blocking roads until the relevant authorities answer our simple demands, that are represented in providing security and improving living standards," Sobhi added and warned that "Iraqis are running out of patience."

Another leading protester, Ahmad Salem, warned the local government in Basra about ignoring popular demands in the province, which had witnessed the launch of the first protests that had swept large parts of the country.

Salem told al-Araby: "The protests shifted to blocking roads and could turn into a sit-in that would paralyse the economy of the oil city if the government continues to be silent towards corruption and the deteriorating living standards in Basra and other provinces."

Head of the Oil and Gas Committee of Basra Governorate Council, Ali Shadad al-Fares, said that the relevant authorities had "received the demands of the protesters and will work hard to achieve them."

Al-Fares said that the council is seeking to reduce the role of security companies and to "employ a number of local residents in the oil police to curb unemployment and reduce spending on security companies."

Basra had seen similar protests in the past, including last August when workers in Qurna oil field (north of Basra) blocked some of the entrances to the oil field in protest of being made redundant by oil companies.

Basra Governorate Council said that protesters should have the priority in local employment opportunities.

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