Two killed in southern Iraq –  Protests held at Safwan border – Kuwait Airways halts flights to Najaf

KUWAIT: Chief of the General Staff of Kuwait’s Army Lt-Gen Mohammad Al-Khudher meets troops stationed at the northern borders yesterday.

KUWAIT/BASRA: Kuwait’s overall security situation is stable, under control, and unaffected by the ongoing protests in southern Iraq, the Kuwaiti army announced yesterday. The incidents that are currently taking place near Kuwait’s northern borders with Iraq are interior affairs of a neighboring country, the army said in a press statement. The recent actions carried out by the Kuwaiti army in cooperation with security bodies in the country are merely precautionary measures, added the statement.

The Chief of the General Staff of Kuwait’s Army Lt-Gen Mohammad Al-Khudher, accompanied by a number of military and security leaders in the country, inspected the northern area to check on the Kuwaiti forces and the precautionary procedures, it noted. Yesterday, tens of protesters demonstrated at the Safwan border crossing with Kuwait as well as at the entrance to the Majnoon oilfield, one of the largest in the country which lies 40 km north of Basra, local security sources said.

The Kuwaiti foreign ministry also said the situation in the northern borders of Kuwait is totally under control with no incident occurring because of the protests in Iraq. Kuwait is closely following the situation and developments in Iraq, said a foreign ministry source in a statement, adding that Kuwaitis were confident that their brethren in Iraq would find a way to resolve their issues and bring stability back to their country.

The Kuwaiti embassy in Baghdad confirmed the safety of Kuwaiti nationals in Iraqi cities, calling for avoiding gathering places and roads. “At a time when we confirm the safety of all Kuwaiti citizens visiting Iraq, we are calling for avoiding gathering places and roads,” Ambassador Salem Al-Zamanan told KUNA. He called for coordinating with the embassy in Baghdad in case of traveling to Kuwait by calling round the clock on 07802604123, 078300004444 and 0783111112222.
Meanwhile, Kuwait Airways announced halting its flights to Najaf until further notice due to the current security conditions in the city. In a statement released yesterday, Kuwait Airways said that it will either divert existing bookings for Najaf to other aviation companies or return the airfare back to clients without fees. Iraqi authorities halted flights from Al-Najaf International Airport yesterday as demonstrators protesting against a lack of services in the country broke into the airport.

Two more demonstrators were killed in southern Iraq, officials said, as protests against unemployment spread yesterday from the port city of Basra to other parts of the country including Baghdad. The deaths overnight in Maysan province on the border with Iran brought to three the number of demonstrators killed since the protests erupted Sunday in neighboring Basra. A spokesman for the Maysan health authorities, Ahmad Al-Kanani, said the pair died from gunshot wounds in the provincial capital Amarah. It was not clear who killed them but Kanani said there had been “indiscriminate gunfire” in the city.

Dozens more have been wounded in the past week, including security forces, according to medical sources. The unrest comes as Iraq struggles to rebuild after a devastating three-year war against Islamic State group militants, and with the country in political limbo following May elections. The demonstrations over unemployment, the rising cost of living and a lack of basic services escalated after a protester was killed by security forces on Sunday in Basra. Demonstrators set tyres ablaze to block roads and tried to storm government installations.

On Friday Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi flew to Basra from Brussels, where he had attended a NATO summit, to try to restore calm. But even as he met the governor of the oil-rich province and energy chiefs, protesters took to the streets of Basra city as well as other parts of the province and the unrest spread further afield. Overnight in Maysan, several protests were held outside the headquarters of various political parties – including Abadi’s Dawa Party – and some were set on fire, Iraqi media reported. A small protest also took place after midnight in the northern Baghdad district of Al-Shula amid a heavy deployment of security forces, a security source told AFP.

The source said a few protesters were still out on the streets of Al-Shula yesterday morning, adding that the demonstration was peaceful. Unidentified calls were also posted on social media for massive demonstrations to take place yesterday in Baghdad. Some urged demonstrators to head for the fortified Green Zone, an area out of bounds for most Iraqis where the country’s key institutions and embassies, including the US and British missions, are located.

Yesterday, dozens of protesters rallied in different parts of Basra, including at the West Qurna and Majnoon oil fields west of the city, an AFP correspondent said. Protesters were gathered at Basra’s Umm Qasr port and outside the governor’s office in the center of the city. A group of demonstrators also staged a brief protest at the Safwan border crossing with neighboring Kuwait.

On Friday, hundreds of people holding Iraqi flags gathered outside the governor’s office in Basra while protests also took place in the provinces of Dhi Qar and Najaf. Shiite clerics, including Moqtada Sadr whose populist coalition triumphed in May elections, have backed the protesters but urged them to refrain from violence. Sadr has sought to form a broad coalition with rivals including Abadi, but the process has been complicated by the supreme court ordering manual recounts in areas where the election was disputed.

After visiting Basra, the prime minister chaired a security cabinet in Baghdad, his office said in a statement accusing “infiltrators” of feeding on “peaceful protests to attack public and private property”. “Our forces will take all the necessary measures to counter those people,” the statement said. Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, had expressed solidarity with protesters, saying they faced an “extreme lack of public services” such as electricity in the suffocating summer heat. Sistani, who has millions of followers, rarely intervenes in politics, but has wide sway over public opinion. Officially, 10.8 percent of Iraqis are jobless, while youth unemployment is twice as high in a country where 60 percent of the population are aged under 24. – Agencies