Iraqi forces placed on ‘high alert’ as violent protests enter sixth day
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Saturday placed the country’s security forces on “high alert” as people in Iraq’s southern provinces continue to demonstrate lack of government services and corruption.
According to Reuters, the nationwide order was delivered overnight by Abadi, who is also the country’s Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
“Reinforcement troops from both the Counter-Terrorism Service and the Army’s Ninth Division have already been dispatched to Basra, where demonstrators gathered for the sixth consecutive day, to help protect the province’s oil fields,” Reuters reported, citing security sources.
After returning from Brussels where he met with Global Coalition forces, on the sidelines of a NATO summit, to speak about the lasting defeat of the Islamic State, Abadi held talks with officials in Iraq’s oil-hub of Basra to discuss unrest in the province.
Exports out of Basra account for over 95 percent of Iraq’s revenue, but officials have stressed oil shipments have not yet been affected by the protests.
Days of protests over the lack of public services and unemployment in the country culminated on Friday in Iraqi demonstrators halting air traffic in the Najaf Airport and blocking access to the Umm Qasr port in the province of Basra.
Air traffic was put on hold as protesters holding Iraqi flags stormed Najaf International Airport, an eyewitness told Kurdistan 24.
“We are living in the biggest oil exporting region of the world, yet this is our life. Public services are wholly inadequate despite the province generating over 90 percent of the country’s total revenue. We need water, electricity, and employment. We still suffer after 15 years” since the fall of the regime, a protester complained to Kurdistan 24 during a live broadcast on Friday.
Protests erupted five days ago in Basra, the oil-rich province in southern Iraq, and later spread to other cities across Iraq.
Demonstrators, demanding better public services, faced off with security forces. Among their main concerns are the distribution of electricity and water, and high unemployment.