Brussels to Basra, Iraqi PM arrives to appease protesters

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi with military and security officials in tow arrived in Basra on Friday after a week of protests over services and locals wanting to replace foreign oil company workers.

Protesters told Rudaw’s correspondent in Basra, Mustafa Goran, that they refused to meet with Abadi’s delegation to listen to their grievances because they believe the committee is only to silence the protests.

This week, people in Basra increasingly have marched, demonstrated, and closed streets by setting tires on fire, requesting better public services.

“The head of the council of ministers Dr. Haider al-Abadi arrived in the Basra province, coming from Brussels,” read a statement from Abadi’s media office on Friday.

Abadi held a series of meetings with military and security officials of Basra’s Operations for a brief about the situation in Basra, according to his office.

Abadi, also met on Friday with Ahssan Abduljabar Ismael, the general director of Basra’s Oil Company.

“In the meeting, forming a mechanism for creating job opportunities for the sons of the province in all fields was discussed,” read a statement from Abadi’s office.

Abadi said the company and its management has provided “139,000 jobs in the form of contracts,” including subcontracting companies.

The premier promised “to strive to find new job opportunities with upcoming projects.”

On Tuesday, Abadi said Basra was special because of its high temperatures and blamed the protests on politics. The temperature has hovered in Basra around 50 degrees Celsius for much of this week.

The protestors had closed the road leading to the Majnun Oil Field and its gate, reported Baghdad Today. The protestors have also blocked roads leading to the southern and northern Ramilah oil fields, and Qarnah 1 and 2 oil fields.

Russian multinational Lukoil has removed employees.

“Foreign workers at Lukoil’s headquarters were evacuated through helicopters in Basra Province,” a source told Baghdad Today on Thursday.

Iraqi Security Forces reportedly left the roads and confined themselves to the oil fields in a bid to avoid problems with protestors.

Iraq’s Oil Minister Jabar al-Luaiabi, who heads the Ministerial Crisis Cell formed to address the issue, denied that foreign employees at the Qarnah 2 Oil Field were evacuated.

“The protestors tried earlier today to break through an oil facility in Qarnah 2’s western oil field and burned some outer gate structures, caravans, police cars, and destroyed of some electronic devices,” stated Luaibi on Thursday.

The minister said the situation was under control, adding the government “rejects assaulting oil facilities and messing with public security.”

He called on protestors to respect public property and not to be part of agendas which “try to cause chaos and unrest.”

Rudaw has learnt that the protests have spread around many smaller towns in the Basra province, not only at the city, citing lack of water, which leads to people buying water for drinking and washing, and lack of electricity as the main grievances.

Protestors have told Rudaw’s correspondent that they demand foreign workers on the oil fields be fired to be replaced with local residents.

On Tuesday, Luaibi reiterated that they are keen to create job opportunities for “the sons of the Basra province, especially towns located near oil fields, and that he has instructed the company administering the Qarnah 2 Oil Field to direct and commit every sub-contractor to create further job opportunities for the sons of the city, Shat al-Arab, and for others.”

Luaibi announced three plans: An emergency term one, related to water, electricity, health, security and public services, to be executed within two weeks to a month; A medium-term plan to be implemented within 3-6 months; and a long-term plan to be implemented no longer than two years.

They announced for desalination unit to be built with a capacity of 3,000 cubic-meters. Basra’s directorate of water will be given $2 billion dollars to “develop and improve” the water sector. On Friday, electricity hours are to be increased with the restart of Iran’s electricity supply to Iraq.

The ministry has decided to create 10,000 job opportunities for the people of the province, to be divided based on the population density of districts and sub-districts.

Tribes and their chiefs in Basra have expressed their support for the protestors, threatening to oust officials at the provincial council if demands aren’t met.

Outspoken Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has also supported the protests, but has advocated for peaceful demonstrations which have left at least two dead. The winner of Iraq’s parliamentary election said he was ready to participate in the protests himself. He encouraged the government to start privatizing the electricity sector.

The protesters have also threatened to seize an Iran-Iraq border crossing. Source