Mass protests broke out two weeks ago in Basra, the city in southern Iraq central to oil production, and soon spread to other provinces. Protests were sparked by high unemployment, poor public services and corruption. There is increasing outrage that huge amounts of oil wealth is extracted from the country while people live in poverty.
Protestors demand that the government provide them with water, electricity, and other essential services, reject the current confessional political system and demand a representative national government. Under the current system, power is shared through a quota system between the major groups in society, the Shi’a, Sunni and Kurds. The protestors believe the system leads to sectarian divisions and corruption.
The protests have been brutally suppressed by the security forces, with 13 people killed and 81 arrested. The government cut off access to the Internet, which has made it difficult for Iraqi activists to spread news of the situation.
Speaking on Iraqi national television, IndustriALL executive committee member and president of the Basra Trade Union Federation, Hashmeya Alsaadawe, said:
“Against whom are these military troops and arms directed? To the unarmed citizens who call for their legitimate demands of a dignified life! They only need water, electricity and job opportunities.
“Who should we address our demands to? The local government doesn’t respond! I called for peaceful protest. There is no hidden agenda. However, we don’t exclude the possibility that some may misuse the situation.”
In a statement signed by a number of IndustriALL Global Union’s Iraqi affiliates, the Conference of Iraqi Federations and Workers Unions said:
“The public protest ongoing in many provinces in our country is a consequence of the grave crisis affecting our society, which is a result of racism, sectarian conflict and the wrong economic and social policies.
“The protest demands not only drinking water, electricity to protect from summer heat and winter cold, an end to unemployment, hunger, the deprivation of services and life below the poverty line. It also demands justice against the rule of oligarchs who break down the national and social fabric of the Iraqi people by force and cruelty.”
IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches said:
“Iraq is a tremendously wealthy country, and its people are entitled to a fair share of that wealth. The powerful Iraqi trade union movement has thrown its weight behind the demand for a decent life and an end to corruption. The international movement is proud to stand by them.”
Recently, the Iraqi elections were won by the Sairoon (Progess) alliance, which includes left wing parties and was propelled to power by the same forces that are now in the streets. The alliance has not yet been able to form a government.
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