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Causes and consequences of unrest in Basra

By Sajad Abedi*


After the intensification of violence and unrest in Basra, the Joint Operations Command in Iraq, while calling this “turbulence,” instructed the country’s security forces to deal with the rigors of demonstrations in Basra decisively. Meanwhile, some security forces are said to have been deployed to Basra from Baghdad.

The key question is what caused the unrest in Basra? Two answers can be made. First, the root of the protests in Basra is the lack of social services. Residents of this province are losing ground to livelihood issues, including water and electricity issues as well as high unemployment rates. According to statistics from the hospitals, the Commissioner for Human Rights has said 20,000 citizens in Basra have been poisoned by the pollution of water. Basra protesters believe that the current situation is not in the province, which is considered the wealthiest province in Iraq.

Second, the events of yesterday in Basra, especially the burning of the consulate building of the Islamic Republic of Iran, suggest a conspiracy designed not only for Basra but also for the larger scale in Iraq. Naturally, people who oppose livelihood problems have no reason to attack and burn a country’s consulate.

Where did the origins of the protests begin?

What many media and news agencies have said about the main cause and motive of protesters in the streets and protest rallies are summarized in a number of ways, which in general can be protest against corruption, unemployment, inefficiency in government, political and economic aspects, lack of proper services to citizens, especially the lack of drinking water and its inadequate quality, including the chronic disruption of the electricity system.

Interrupted power failure and hot summer heat

The people of Basra have been plagued with frequent power cuts in recent months, especially in summer; the lack of electricity in a city whose temperature exceeds 50 degrees Celsius severely affects the city. This is not the first time that the people of Basra and other Iraqi cities have been complaining of a shortage of urban services, including a lack of drinking water and electrification, and demonstrate to remedy this situation.

Protests to the lack of water and electricity in the past years have been observed, especially in summer, in various Iraqi cities. This is a demonstration that occurred August 3rd in Basra and other Iraqi cities.

Demonstrators protested over corruption in cities in 2015, protesting the use of government services in cities like Basra and Baghdad. The invasion of ISIL fled migrants to cities such as Baghdad and Basra at that time was due to the plight of providing more inefficient urban services than the past residents of the two major Iraqi cities.

Water crisis and deadly pollutants in drinking water

The state of drinking water in this city rich in petroleum resources does not have much to do with electricity. Basra citizens say that salt and other pollutants in drinking water have sent thousands of people to the hospital. According to the Iraqi Human Rights Watch, the number of patients has grown so high that hospitals have been forced out of their capacity. Many patients are treated on the ground due to the lack of beds on the ground, according to the report. Freshwater canals in Basra, which were previously usable, have not been used to penetrate contaminated water and sewage. Lack of rainfall and the construction of upstream dams in Turkey, Syria and Iran are two other important reasons for the water crisis in Iraq, which has been exacerbated by the inefficiency of government. According to official figures provided by the Iraqi government, the chemical pollution of drinking water in Basra has increased to 100 percent and its bacterial contamination has increased by 50 percent.

Officials and health centers in Iraq have reported that more than 17,000 Basra residents have been hospitalized for the last few weeks because of the use of contaminated water. This caused that in late August, seven thousand people would go to health centers in just two days.

Economic crisis and unemployment, two dilemmas are always present

The cutting off of electricity and the water supply disrupted the lives of residents in Basra and other Iraqi cities, with the economic crisis and financial corruption in the government body as powerful sparks of sufficient potential to turn the people’s anger into a flaming fire.

The port city has more than 70 percent of Iraq’s oil reserves, while about 50 percent of its inhabitants live below the poverty line. Unemployment rates have been reported especially among young people. While many analysts believe that the problems mentioned (electricity, water, economic crisis and unemployment), although they have been somehow incited to the dissatisfaction and anger of the protesters, it is not particularly possible to limit the recent unrest to these factors.

State corruption and foreign interference

One of the most prominent issues in the slogans and protests of the residents of Basra and several other Iraqi cities has been a great deal of concern about the spread of corruption in the government body and Iran’s involvement in its political affairs. Many Basra residents accuse Iran of supporting corrupt government officials and Shiite militias stationed in the city. This blame comes at a time when most city residents are struggling with poverty and unemployment.

The protests broke out on Friday following an attack on the Iranian Consulate in Basra, where demonstrators incurred damages to the construction of the consulate, burned it and then lowered the flag of Iran by lowering their flag. Some protesters also fired on Iran’s leader Khamenei’s flag and images, and chanted slogans calling for the withdrawal of Iran from the country.


*Sajad Abedi is a Resident Research Fellow at the National Security and Defense Think Tank. He obtained his Ph. D. degree in National Security from the National Defense University, Islamic Republic of Iran. His research interests pertain to Arab-Israeli studies, Cyber Security studies and National Security.

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