By Idris Okuducu and Haydar Karaalp
As demonstrations in Iraq enter their ninth day, protesters are not optimistic about seeing their demands met anytime soon.
The protests first erupted in the southern city of Basra, where demonstrators decried poor public services, high unemployment and chronic power shortages.
The main reasons for Iraq’s ongoing financial crisis, which appears to have triggered the protests, are the high costs of perpetual conflict and falling oil revenues.
While Baghdad has been largely unable to fulfill its development plans, it is also struggling to provide basic public utilities, including electricity and water.
Meanwhile, a displacement crisis continues to ravage the western, central and northern parts of the country, where anti-terror operations have remained ongoing since 2014.
Iraq’s predominantly-Shia eastern and southern regions, meanwhile, appear to face an altogether different challenge: perceived government negligence and mismanagement.
Iran turns off lights
Earlier this week, Iran cut power to its neighbor to the west, leaving Iraq’s oil-rich Basra province -- along with a number of others -- without electricity.
Facing high summer temperatures that often surpass 50 degrees, the move quickly sparked demonstrations in the Basra, Dhi Qar, Maysan and Muthanna provinces.
On July 6, two days before the protests erupted, Musaab al-Mudaris, a spokesman for Iraq’s Electricity Ministry, told Anadolu Agency that Iran had cut 1,000 megawatts of electricity to Iraq due to outstanding debts owed by Baghdad.
At a July 13 press conference, Iranian Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian said Iran had also halted energy exports to Pakistan and Afghanistan due to domestic electricity and water supply problems.
The following day, protests in Iraq spread to capital Baghdad, while in the south-central Najaf province angry demonstrators stormed Najaf’s international airport, bringing air traffic to a standstill.
In hopes of preventing the protests from escalating further, Baghdad has cut internet access and banned several social-media platforms.
It has also imposed curfews in Basra, Karbala, Najaf and Muthanna, where the demonstrations have been the most intense.
According to unofficial data, Iraq’s Shia population (roughly 60 percent of the total population) live predominantly in the southern provinces.
Having already targeted government buildings and oil installations, protesters are now torching the offices of armed groups, including Iraq’s Hashd al-Shaabi.
They have also set fire to the offices of Iraq’s Dawa Party, Fatah Coalition and Wisdom Movement.
In hopes of satisfying protesters’ demands for employment, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi recently unveiled plans to appoint 10,000 new civil servants.
He has also reportedly instructed officials to find urgent solutions to chronic water and power shortages. According to some reports, he has also earmarked $3 billion for the improvement of public services in Basra.
In response to the recent disturbances, Najaf’s chief of police was recently sacked, along with the administration of Najaf’s international airport, which had frequently been accused of corruption in the past.
According to Hussein Allawi, an Iraqi political analyst and academician, the demonstrators are articulating “legitimate grievances”.
“But the timing of the demonstrations happens to coincide with the final days of Iraq’s outgoing government,” he told Anadolu Agency.
He added: “Planned reforms and solutions will depend entirely on the country’s next government, the features of which remain unclear until now.”
“The political groups that won the [May 12] parliamentary poll must be involved in the solution process,” he said.
Allawi went on to warn: “Any delay in forming the next government will only serve to exacerbate the demonstrations.”
According to Mohamed Salem, an Iraqi political analyst, people in southern Iraq have taken to the streets because they are fed up with poor standards of living.
“There are hundreds of graduates who can't find jobs,” he told Anadolu Agency. “The [Iraqi] state has failed to run the economy efficiently due largely to its policy of relying on foreign imports.”
“Ultimately, however, it was Iran’s power cuts that drove the people to protest,” he added.
“The Iraqi opposition has not had a parliamentary presence for years,” Salem asserted. “So now they have resorted to hitting the streets to voice their demands.”
*Ali Murat Alhas contributed to this report from Ankara