With the end of the war against ISIS, the many problems of Iraq that had been on the back burner have resurfaced, according to Yaseen Taha, a Kurdish researcher and journalist with a focus on Iraqi affairs.
“The new state of Iraq was built on the shoulders of Basra,” said Taha.
The people of Basra know the resources and natural blessings that abound in their province – which supplies the bulk of Iraq’s revenues – but their standard of living deteriorates on a daily basis.
Rudaw: What do you think has led people in Shiite cities to protest against a Shiite government? Is this something new in Iraq?
Yaseen Taha: What is currently happening in the provinces of Basra, Najaf, Karbala, and some other provinces in the south is somewhat expected. In times of war, there is always the excuse to neglect peoples’ demands. Recently, the Iraqi government and people were busy with the danger posed by ISIS. ISIS once even posed a threat to Baghdad. Baghdad and other provinces later celebrated victory over ISIS. The government is now dealing with peoples’ old and piled up demands.
During the war on ISIS, Iraq was entangled with a number of problems. In Iraq, there are problems of construction, identity, services, corruption, and mismanagement. Other problems, like the problem of living conditions, surfaced in provinces where protests are
The new state of Iraq was built on the shoulders of Basra
happening after the war was over.
The new state of Iraq was built on the shoulders of Basra. With the flow of Kirkuk oil currently on hold, 95 percent of the oil Iraq is exporting is coming from Basra. Since 2003, this province has contributed nearly one trillion US dollars to Iraqi revenues, whereas conditions in the city have been deteriorating daily.
Basra was once viewed as Iraq’s Venice. Dubai has only coasts and sand, whereas there are coasts, Shatt al-Arab [River], sweet water, oil, harbors, agriculture, ancient history, and rich culture in Basra. Despite this, these two cities are incomparable when you look at them. People have access to social media. They see this and are aware of this.
Big protests were staged in the past. Muqtada al-Sadr was leading and controlling these big protests himself. Now, who can control these protests? What do you think will happen if these protests continue?
Thus far, no one coordinates or manages these protests. I spoke to some of my friends in Najaf and Karbala before this interview. So far, four people have died in Najaf. Protesters have tried to enter Karbala provincial council. So far, there is no one to lead these protests and mediate. And this will foment the situation.
Protests staged by Sadr fans are controlled and they are done by the issuance of a fatwa. Sadr’s Saraya al-Salam soldiers protect
no one coordinates or manages these protests
protesters. Special committees formed by Sadr direct the protests, choose their slogans, timeline, and finish time. Whereas these protests have been staged by people who think they have suffered injustices. The situation of Najaf airport is very bad.
What do you think is the role of Muqtada al-Sadr in these protests?
They are the winning list, winning 16.5 percent of the votes throughout Iraq. But this doesn’t mean they have won 70 to 80 percent of Shiite votes. On the other hand, Sadr has been in some way part of the government and minister of water resources. Nowadays,
people have water shortages in Basra. They are drinking salty water. Instead of water, salt comes out from their taps. They can’t use the water even to wash their faces. The Ministry of Water Resources was run by Sadrists in two cabinets. Baha Araji, the deputy prime minister, was with the Sadr route. They ran six service ministries. That is why they too are not clean.