Iraqi protesters withdraw from Najaf airport, air traffic resumes

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Air traffic has resumed at the airport in the Iraqi city of Najaf after protesters withdrew, state television reported late on Friday.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of Iraqis stormed the airport and halted air traffic in the city of Najaf, extending protests following demonstrations in the southern city of Basra decrying poor government services and corruption.

Angry protesters had stormed Najaf province HQ and airport earlier on Friday. Al-Hadath news channel reporter said that no clashes between protesters and local police were registered and that the security personnel allowed them to enter the province HQ and airport to demonstrate peacefully.


Also, in the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, protests continued against the government performance and gunfire was heard, while protesters in the capital Baghdad called on the government to improve services.

A report said a demonstrator was killed in clashes with Iraqi security forces in Maysan.

Meanwhile, Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr called on the protesters to protect the public properties and demonstrate peacefully, urging security forces at the same time not to use force against protesters.

On Thursday, three demonstrations outside major oilfields in the southern oil hub of Basra involved dozens of residents demanding jobs and better public services.

Two protesters were wounded, police and hospital sources said, without elaborating after the incident near an entrance to the giant West Qurna 2 oilfield, run by Lukoil.

Local workers said around 10 protesters managed to briefly enter a crude separation facility before police pushed them back. An angry crowd set fire to a caravan used by police, said two policemen at the scene.

Iraq basra protests. (Reuters)
Iraq basra protests. (Reuters)

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi arrived in the province of Basra straight from Brussels in an attempt to contain the five-day protests against poverty, unemployment and corruption.

The Iraqi government announced the allocation of 10,000 jobs for the people of Basra, while the Iraqi council of ministers formed a delegation headed by the minister of oil, in order to search for urgent solutions to the problems in Basra, where he ordered the appointment of 250 residents north of Basra to join the problem-solving process.

Iraq basra protests. (Reuters)
Iraq basra protests. (Reuters)

The unrest did not impact production at West Qurna 2 or the other two fields, West Qurna 1 and Rumaila, two oil officials said.

Iraq’s oil ministry later issued a statement saying that production at West Qurna 2 was proceeding normally and that security forces were in control of the situation near the oilfields.

Oil exports from Basra account for more than 95 percent of OPEC producer Iraq’s state revenues. Any potential disruptions to production could severely impact the economy.

The demonstrations escalated after police opened fire last week to disperse dozens of protesters near the giant southern West Qurna-2 oilfield, killing one person and wounding three.

Sensitive time

Tensions over basic services come at a sensitive time when Iraqi political blocs are attempting to form a coalition government after a May 12 parliamentary election tainted by allegations of fraud.

Easing hardship will not be easy. Iraq needs tens of billions of dollars to rebuild after its war with Islamic State.

Iraq basra protests. (Reuters)
Iraq basra protests. (Reuters)

“We want jobs, we want to drink clean water, and electricity. We want to be treated like human beings and not animals,” said Husam Abdul Ameer, 25, an unemployed college graduate from Basra.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered a ministerial committee to look into the protesters’ demands.

About 70 people gathered near a joint entrance leading to the key oilfields of Rumaila, operated by BP, and West Qurna 1, run by Exxon Mobil, said police officers in charge of protecting the oilfields perimeters.

Some called on foreign companies to create jobs.

“Why should young men from Basra beg for jobs while oil companies are hiring foreign workers,” protest organizer Falih al-Darraji told Reuters.

“That’s unfair and should stop, otherwise we will not only demonstrate near the oilfield but will break in.”

Some local officials said the complaints were justified.

“Protesters have fair demands and they are peaceful so far.
If the government does not respond quickly, we fear things will get out of control in Basra,” said Faris Shaddad, the head of energy panel of Basra provincial council.

Other protesters gathered at a main road to the east of Basra leading to a border crossing with Iran, preventing trucks from moving, custom officials said.

(With Reuters)

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