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For Fifth Day, Iraqis Demonstrate Against Power Cuts, Poor Services

  • RFE/RL

Iraqis swim near Basra in an effort to beat the searing summer heat on August 3.

Iraqis swim near Basra in an effort to beat the searing summer heat on August 3.

Iraqis complaining about corruption and poor services, epitomized by power cuts during a heatwave, took to the streets on August 4 for a fifth day of protests.

The unrest, though limited and largely peaceful, could weigh on the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi just as its forces are gearing up for a fresh offensive to retake western Anbar Province from Islamic State militants.

Witnesses said hundreds of demonstrators chanted against the government in the provincial capital of Amara, about 300 kilometers southeast of Baghdad, demanding electricity, jobs, and government reforms.

Antigovernment protests broke out on July 31 in Baghdad and have swept the southern cities of Basra, Najaf, Babil, and Nasiriyah in recent days.

Temperatures surpassing 50 degrees Celsius across Iraq have exacerbated regular summer power shortages and prompted the government to declare a four-day holiday last weekend.

"On top of [Islamic State], we have to suffer power outages," protesters in Amara chanted. A few demonstrators carried a coffin marked with the word "parliament."

In Baghdad, a crowd of hundreds of mostly middle-class Baghdadis chanted, "Thieves, thieves, thieves" in protests on July 31.

Many of the demonstrators were civil servants who were not afraid to criticize the government.

"We are demonstrating against a failed government, a government that has disappointed the hopes of the people," said Nahida Ahmad, a middle-aged woman employed at the Ministry of Culture. "We have no services. Have they no shame? For years, we have been telling them they are failures, they are thieves, they are corrupt."

"We despair of this government we elected," said Dawood Akram, an engineer at the Ministry of Water Resources. "Thirteen years with no water, no electricity, no services, and with low salaries. The people have had enough."

Power from the national grid is on only a few hours a day in most of the country, making life deeply uncomfortable in the searing summer heat.

Abadi last week ordered state institutions and government officials to save electricity with programmed power cuts.

Iraq's electricity grid has been worn down by years of war and lack of investment. It will probably supply only 11,000 megawatts of Iraq's 21,000-megawatt peak demand this summer, the electricity minister told parliament last week.

Electricity supplies collapsed in the chaos after the U.S. invasion in 2003 when power plants were looted or not properly maintained.

Islamist insurgents have targeted transmission towers and other infrastructure in subsequent years.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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