By Nick Clark
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Toxic water protests in Basra turn into rage at corruption and sectarianism

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Issue 2621
Protests over toxic water have grown into rage at corruption
Protests over toxic water have grown into rage at corruption

Protests erupted in Iraqi city Basra last week. People stormed and burned government offices in anger at toxic water supplies, power cuts and corruption.

Thousands of people took to the streets for several days of protests last week.

The mobilisations came after news that some 17,000 people had been taken to hospital recently after drinking polluted water—and many more may have been affected.

The water pollution crisis has lasted for weeks. Hospitals have struggled since early August to cope with the number of patients suffering from diseases caused by drinking toxic water.


Basra’s health directorate reported 100 percent chemical contamination and 50 percent bacterial pollution in the city’s water supply. The scandal follows an energy shortage and generalised anger at corruption, unemployment and poverty.

Protesters have stormed almost every government building in the city, as well as the offices of Iraq’s ruling Dawa party. They also shut down Iraq’s main sea port, Umm Qasr.

Demonstrator Edward Maki Shaker told the Middle East Eye website the protests were a “revolution”. “We are governed by a group of criminals,” he said.

Iraqi police and soldiers responded with beatings, tear gas and even live ammunition. At least 12 people have been killed.

The protests are the latest to erupt since a wave of demonstrations swept southern Iraq in July this year.

They have concentrated anger at the poverty that is a legacy of the US’s invasion of Iraq in 2003—and the corrupt, sectarian government it installed.

After overthrowing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the US forced through free market reforms that privatised large parts of Iraq’s government services.

Oil revenues make up more than 90 percent of Iraq’s state revenues.

Yet although Basra is located in Iraq’s vast oil fields, ordinary people there see little benefit.

The US also installed a government based on division between Shia and Sunni Muslim sects. Yet the protests in Basra—a majority Shia city—are against the Shia-dominated government. They also take aim at neighbouring Iran, a Shia state, which recently cut Iraq’s electricity supply.


And in parliamentary elections earlier in May a coalition opposing sectarianism and corruption—the Sairoon Alliance—won the largest number of seats.

A new government is still to be formed. Sairoon leader Moqtada al-Sadr called on the prime minister to resign as the protests reached their height last week.

Protest organisers suspended the demonstrations on Sunday after reportedly receiving death threats from Iranian-backed militias.

“We’ll suspend protests now to spare blood, and we’ll return with a new approach,” said activist Naqeeb al-Luaibi.

“We will not give up until our demands are met.”

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