‘Échanges et Mouvement’ on this summer’s mass revolt in Iraq
The Shatt al-Arab is the common estuary of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, more than a kilometer wide, in the proximity of Iran and Kuwait, and with Basra and Abadan as centers on the Iraqi and Iranian side respectively. In the 1950s it was still a prosperous region, not only because of the oil, but also for an incredible ecological riches, adapted to the salty sea water and the fresh water of the rivers, [surrounded by] more than 15 million palm trees and a great agricultural riches.
Three wars (Iraq – Iran 1980 – 1988, the Gulf war of 1990 – 1991 and the Iraq war of 2003), the bloody repression by Saddam Hussein in 1991, the present instability because of the Syrian conflict and the penetration of Daesh have annihilated this prosperity, and have caused irreparable damages to the ecological riches as well as to the agricultural activities. Moreover this annihilation has been aggravated by important punctures of the two rivers’ waters by Turkey, Iran, Kurdistan and the region of Baghdad. An inhabitant of the city of Basra sees it as follows: “Today the canals of the city are prone to filth. The turbines of the electricity plants stand still and the city of oil survives almost without electricity and drinking water. Half of the inhabitants are without a job.”
The global climatic change has drastically aggravated the reduction of the fresh water of the river: the sea level rise has made the water table become salty to the effect that the surrounding countryside – previously swamps, fresh water sources and rich of rice and corn cultures – has become inept for any culture. Recently the government has even forbidden cultures for consumption from what is left of fresh waters.
Last summer has been particularly demanding for the populations, with average temperatures of 50 °C and electricity shortages. All electrical current from Iran has been cut off for non-payment. The wars and the consequence of degraded water quality and the desertification have caused an exodus of the population towards the surroundings of Basra, in the hope for profiting from the oil manna. The region assures ¾ of Iraq’s oil production, it’s the terminal of all pipelines of the country, with numerous oil refineries.
The province has 5 million inhabitants out of 38 million in Iraq as a whole. 4 millions live in the surroundings of Basra, the population of which has grown by 1 million migrants since 2003. These migrants live in slums with problems in the delivery, notably, of water and electricity. On September 7, 30 persons had to be hospitalized for microbe intoxication via water. The unemployment rate exceeds 30%.
The whole population in this region is of Shiite obedience, like the government in Baghdad, a fact of importance because during the revolts we will come to speak about, nobody can put forward religious motivations. In fact, because of the absence of the Shiite authorities in Baghdad, the local religious [authorities] assume state functions, which explains why they have been particularly targeted. The adherence to the Shiite religion in combination with the social misery among youngsters (60% of the population is under the age of 24) explains why more than 60,000 of them have voluntarily entered the army to combat Daesh. 1,580 have been killed and 3,000 have at least lost a leg. (1) All have hoped to gain some advantage from this engagement, but once returned home they have been totally abandoned, undergo the common situation and are all the more frustrated.
The general situation has become all the more explosive because, whereas oil activities develop, the inhabitants have almost no chance of finding a job, as the multinationals who exploit the oil prefer to hire migrants all the way from South-East Asia, who are particularly docile and underpaid.
This explains the events that have broken out, starting with a simple blockage of a refinery’s entrance on July 8 by youngsters who were determined to obtain a job. The brutal repression of this picket has been the spark that has inflamed the whole region in a vast protest movement against the local Shiite power, in which thousands demonstrated every Friday against the degradation of their living conditions, corruption, unemployment and repression. Notably they have blocked the port of Umm Qasr, through which the oil exports and food imports pass, and the main road arteries, and occupied the local air port. For September 7th the local government has declared a curfew: everyone on the road would immediately be arrested. The popular explosion on this Friday has become a real revolt, with the arson of public buildings, of the seats of the Shiite party, the Iranian consulate, barracks of Shiite militia, Mosques and the local television station. This social explosion, bereft of every religious or ethnic question, has unleashed an all the more violent repression: more than a dozen dead, dozens of wounded and hundreds of arrests have been counted. But the Baghdad government, for whom the oil stakes remain essential and who fears the extension of the movement to the Baghdad region, tightens the screws of repression with the establishment of a joint command of operations with extended powers, a recommendation to take exceptional security measures, and with severe juridical condemnations.
Échanges et Mouvement, September 2018
Source: Dans le monde une classe en lutte, September 2018. Free supplement to ‘Échanges’ n° 163; also online as “IRAK : les séquelles de la guerre contre daesh” at: http://spartacus1918.canalblog.com/
Translation and annotations: H.C., October 11, 2018
1 According to the statistics of ‘Hachd al-Chaabi’ (“popular mobilization units”), of 20,000 volunteers from Basra province, 1,580 have been killed and 8,000 have returned wounded, of whom 3,000 have at least lost a leg. Source: Libération, August 28, 2018: Mutilés de Bassora, en Irak : «J’aurais préféré aller au paradis». [editor’s note]