Basra, Iraq – As summer temperatures reach burning levels, many Iraqis took to the streets to protest widespread power outages in Baghdad and thus the southern provinces of the country.
In the oil-rich city of Basra, protesters last week blocked highways and tire tires to pressure the govt to tackle chronic cuts to electricity and poor public services.
Temperatures in Basra rose above 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) within the afternoon. Iraqi authorities responded by reducing working hours to but five, citing extreme heat.
Electricity outages have routinely led to violent protests, particularly in southern Iraq, as successive governments have didn’t address the recurring problem in recent years.
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Forces, the shortage of services, and unholy corruption were also among the foremost drivers of massive anti-government protests that erupted in 2019 over Baghdad and thus the Shia south of Iraq, especially.
While many of us died and thousands were injured within the protest movement, a few of demands were met before demonstrations came to an abrupt end in March 2020 because of the spread of the coronavirus.
“Electricity is in basic need. Its lack could also be a violation of the various human rights, including the right to health, safe housing, education, and more, “said Ali al-Bayati, a member of the Iraqi High Commission on Human Rights.
During a recent protest, protesters in Basra shouted “No, no to corruption” and “All parties are liars” because they promised escalations if the govt. didn’t take action.
“We are suffering the same way we did in 2018, 2019, and 2020. there is a shortage of services, poor infrastructure, and continuous cuts in electricity,” Abdelkarim Ahmed, a 25-year-old in Basra.
“That is why we are asking the authorities here to affect our complaints and provides us our basic right,” he added.
In recent weeks, dozens of protesters have gathered for the foremost electricity company in Basra’s Tawaisa district, demanding better services.
Basra Governor Asaad al-Eidani warned during a televised address last week that he would isolate Basra’s centers from the rest of Iraq if the central government didn’t resolve the crisis.
Ahmed threatened that if the govt. turned a “deaf ear”, Basra residents would hold a mass protest.
“We just want electricity. “Such a simple thing that the corrupt political class has not been able to tackle since 2003,” he said.
Ahmed’s friend and fellow protester, Abbas Hassoun, 24, told Al Jazeera that only six intermittent hours of electricity every day reached his family home, where 16 people, including his sick father and young children, live.
‘We are deprived of a basic right. the govt. must consider a long-term strategy for this. Basra features tons of money, but it isn’t used for his people, “said Hassoun.
To escape the power outages reception, Sami Mohsin, 38, said he usually drives his kids within the car during the peak hours of the afternoon.
“The car is typically the only source of air conditioning, but it’s expensive and destroys the engine. I recently spent $ 200 to repair it, ‘said Mohsin, who explained that although he pays for a generator, it’s merely enough to supply the lights and fans.
“Some people travel outside Iraq every summer to escape this, but I can not afford it,” he added.
With many young Iraqis unemployed or earning low wages, their only source of relief within the summer heat goes to the banks of the Shatt al-Arab River where they gather to relax off.
“I do not have employment which I cannot afford to pay 10,000 Iraqi dinars ($ 6.85) for access to a private swimming pool . “I come to Shatt al-Arab each day to need a dip and luxuriate in time with friends,” said Mohammed Ali as he sat by the river.
‘I hope they’re doing [the government]can build sports facilities, including swimming pools. we’d like free access because we sleep within the busiest city in Iraq. Unfortunately, they’re just trying to spoil the wealth of the country. ”
According to former Iraqi electricity minister Luay al-Khateeb, the reasons behind Iraq’s power outage are varied and complicated.
“When it involves developing the energy sector, it isn’t just increasing energy that’s important, Transmission, distribution, fuel supply, maintenance, and management actually cost more and do most of the work.”
Between 2005 and 2020, Iraq spent about $ 75 billion on investment and operating costs within the world, which together with improved the country’s national capacity to 30GW, Al-Khateeb said.
This was an enormous development compared to about 20GW available at peak capacity within the summer of 2019, he explained, adding that these restrictions were caused by ISIL targeting power lines, which affected Iraq’s power capacity.
However, al-Khateeb said the aging population of Iraq still needed large investments to satisfy the wants of its growing population. He also noted that previous governments had didn’t implement a long-term strategy for gas production, “leading to gas being ignited instead of being captured on Iraq’s oil fields.”
“Electricity for homes remains heavily subsidized by the govt. , which has led to a shortage of funding for critical maintenance and expansion,” al-Khateeb said.
“Political instability has prevented meaningful reform of Iraq’s military sector, despite the government’s acceptance of recommendations by groups just like the planet Bank,” he added.
Iranian fuel cuts
Earlier this month, Iran cut cash taxes on exports of electricity to Iraq to put pressure on Baghdad to release payments for power after falling into arrears.
Iranian fuel exports to Iraq could amount to only about one-third of the country’s supply during the summer months. Calls to demonstrate have raised fears of violent protests sweeping Basra in 2018 and coinciding with power cuts from Iran over non-payment issues.
The developments came before expected federal elections on October 10, and when Iraqi Electricity Minister Majed Hantoush resigned, following popular pressure.
“The dismissed minister of electricity lacked vision and powerful leadership,” Harry Istepanian, an independent energy and water expert based in Washington.
He noted that Hantoush stepped down every day after the favored cyclist Muqtada Sadr called him to resign.