BASRA: Iraqi security forces form a human barrier as protesters demonstrate against unemployment and a lack of basic services in this southern Iraqi city yesterday. The banner reads in Arabic: “Basra’s oil belongs to Basra”. – AFP

KUWAIT: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has assured HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah that security remains intact in Iraq amid nationwide protests over poor state services and a lack of job opportunities. In a phone conversation they had yesterday, the Iraqi prime minister and HH the Amir also discussed issues of mutual concern, with Abadi wishing Kuwait perpetual development and prosperity. Meanwhile, 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.

Meanwhile, National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem said yesterday that acting prime minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah will brief MPs tomorrow on the ongoing protests in Iraq. He said a number of lawmakers approached him requesting an informal meeting in the Assembly with the government over the events in Iraq amid reports that Iraqi demonstrators in southern cities have come closer to the border with Kuwait.

Ghanem said that the meeting is open to all lawmakers and will be held at the Assembly office. The foreign minister will explain to MPs the developments in Iraq. He said that the meeting will also be attended by the acting defense minister and the state minister for Cabinet affairs to answer questions by lawmakers over the developments on the Kuwaiti-Iraqi borders and Kuwait’s preparations for all possibilities.

Meanwhile, head of the Assembly’s foreign relations committee MP Hamad Al-Harashani said the events taking place in Iraq are internal affairs and that Kuwait wishes Iraq stability. But he wondered why demonstrators have come close to the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border crossing point in Safwan if their demands are for domestic reforms, and called for carefully watching the developments.

Harashani said he hopes that there is nothing hidden behind the Iraqi popular protests towards Kuwait and called on Kuwaiti officials to closely monitor the developments and deal seriously with them. He said he is confident in the Kuwaiti political leadership and the ministries of defense and interior for efficiently handling the situation.

Rapporteur of the committee MP Mohammad Al-Huwailah expressed deep concern over the developments near the Kuwaiti-Iraqi borders and protests in southern Iraq. He said he expects that the developments are the results of tensions between Iran and the United States and also between Iran and a number of Gulf countries. But he expressed fear that the turmoil in Iraq could be manipulated to threaten Kuwait’s security and called on Kuwaiti security agencies to be alert and to upgrade their readiness.

In Iraq, two protesters were killed yesterday in clashes with Iraqi security forces in the town of Samawa, a police official said, amid growing anger in southern cities over poor public services and widespread corruption. The unrest is piling pressure on Abadi, who hopes to serve a second term once politicians form a new government following a May 12 parliamentary election tainted by allegations of fraud. “Hundreds of people tried to storm a courthouse. Shots were fired towards us. It was not clear who was shooting. We had no choice but to open fire,” said the police official in Samawa.

Earlier, police in oil hub Basra wounded 48 people when they fired in the air to disperse a crowd of hundreds that tried to storm a government building and demonstrated near an oilfield. Some 28 members of the security forces were also wounded, according to Major General Thamir Al-Hussaini, commander of the Interior Ministry’s Rapid Response Forces. In a town near the southern city of Amara, police shot into the air to disperse protesters after demonstrators set fire to the municipality building. Thirteen protesters and seven policemen were wounded in the clashes.

Internet access in Iraq has been dramatically reduced. Local officials said demonstrations have not affected crude production in Basra, whose shipments account for more than 95 percent of OPEC producer Iraq’s state revenues. Any disruption could severely impact the country’s limping economy and push up global oil prices.

Abadi’s Dawa party has dominated Iraqi politics since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. “The Dawa party has been running Iraq for 15 years and its leaders failed to live up to even a single promise they made,” said Ziad Fadhil, 38, who is unemployed, in Basra. He held up a piece of cardboard to shield his head from the scorching sun. Earlier yesterday, Jordan’s state airline said it had suspended four weekly flights to Iraq’s holy city of Najaf due to the “security situation at its airport”. Flydubai followed suit. Air traffic was temporarily suspended on Friday when protesters stormed

Najaf’s international airport. Flights from Iran to Najaf will be diverted to Baghdad, Iranian state television reported.
A political bloc led by populist cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr unexpectedly won a majority in May’s vote on an anti-corruption platform that had appeal across Iraq’s electorate. Abadi has said his caretaker government will release funds to Basra for water, electricity and health services but major relief is unlikely to come soon for the city once dubbed the “Venice of the Middle East” for its network of canals. Iraq needs to generate billions of dollars to rebuild after its three-year war with Islamic State.

Demonstrators demanding jobs and better government services, have cut off access to the southern Umm Qasr commodities port. Saddam Hussein oppressed Iraq’s majority Shiites, neglecting their southern heartland, and successive Shiite-led governments after him have done little to improve lives there. “Since the fall of Saddam in 2003 and until now the only real thing Shiite politicians have been saying is their lies,” said Usama Abbas, 25, an unemployed college graduate in Basra, where oil money rarely trickles down to the population. “We still drink filthy water and forgot what air conditioning means during summer.”

In addition to local government headquarters, the demonstrators have taken the unusual step of attacking buildings belonging to powerful Shiite militias. Abadi, who also serves as commander-in-chief of Iraq’s armed forces, issued a nationwide order yesterday placing security forces on high alert in the southern provinces, aiming to stem the burgeoning protests. – Agencies

By B Izzak and Agencies