Who fanned the flames in Basra?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Firstly, let's ask: Who benefits from sabotaging Basra’s security?

In response to Iranian allegations, Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, have no interest in doing this. Basra is a neighboring governorate and its security is directly linked to security in the Gulf region. Basra is also an oil-rich governorate and if chaos obstructs oil production, prices will increase and this is against these countries’ policy as they’re trying to fix the price.

The Americans would also be harmed if chaos leads to an increase in oil prices because their economy will pay the price. The only suspect is the Iranian government as it frankly announced that it wants prices to soar to record highs and for chaos to overwhelm global oil markets. Iran views the increase in prices as a weapon to exert pressure so the West allows it to make exports and negotiate with it according to conditions set by Tehran.

Last month, official Iraqi oil companies signed a large contract with the US Chevron Corp. to develop oil fields in the governorate, and this angered Tehran.

If everyone hadn’t been busy with the huge battle in Syria’s Idlib, Basra would have attracted the world’s attention. Twelve people in Basra were killed because they protested water scarcity and pollution. The people’s protests were an expected outburst, because they have been complaining for years of the chaos, the spread of militias, violence, unemployment and now water that even animals cannot drink because of its high salt content.

On top of all this, people there lived throughout most of the summer season without power, making the heat even harder to tolerate. The recent protests erupted as a result, and they were violently and wrongly dealt with. The rallies erupted against the Iraqi militias affiliated with Iran, and people burnt the headquarters of political parties and targeted Iran’s consulate, which to many represents the symbol of every evil in their governorate.

They think that the water crisis is a result of the process of withdrawing public water from the marshes and on the borders, until the marsh water became scarce and not suitable for human consumption. As to why people stormed the Iranian consulate, it is because Iran’s official presence in Basra is more clearly spread there than the rest of Iraqi areas.

The salty, contaminated water sparked the anger of people whom are already known to be against Iraqi political religious parties and against Iran. It’s nothing new for these feelings of hostility to emerge against these two poles and specifically in Basra.

Basra's significance

Basra is the second most important city in Iraq. It carried these parties to governance on its shoulders, and it’s the governorate which was promised the most with a better future. However, its situation has worsened ever since the American exit.

The water issue is just one complaint of many. The people of Basra are also upset that Iran’s militias have turned their city into a farm to serve their own interests and governed it with iron and fire. Let’s not forget that Basra is a fertile agriculture area, and up until recently it was the source of “rice, millet and spelt” for the entire region but now its people cannot even drink from its water due to what happened to its waters.

Water, like other bad services, is a problem in all of Iraq and not just in Basra. However, since this governorate is the government’s financial wallet and only port, the chaos scared the government which fears it will become like the Libyan oil crescent area, which brought chaos and war to all of Libya, and hence worry neighboring countries especially Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Away from casting blame and making accusations, the Iraqi government and the political governance system in Baghdad is demanded to act in the entire of Basra so it becomes free of Iranian militias, weapons and interferences. We know that Iran will resist the attempt to get it out of Basra. With this chaos and these protests, the authorities are forced to put an end to the old situation and turn the city and the governorate into a center that provides Baghdad with stability and not just oil.

This article is also available in Arabic.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.