At least eight people have died and 56 injured in demonstrations over the past week. Residents are protesting high unemployment, water shortages and the lack of services. For Mgr Habib, the situation is bound to get worse if the government does not take action. Masses and liturgical activities are still being held.
Basra (AsiaNews) – As a result of the deadly protests that have hit southern Iraq "we have had to stop all cultural activities and catechism" in our churches and parishes "to protect the lives of our faithful, especially children," said Mgr Alnaufali Habib Jajou, Chaldean archbishop of Basra, southern Iraq. Still, despite the situation, “Masses and other liturgical activities continue," the prelate told AsiaNews.
For more than a week, southern Iraq’s main city has been the scene of violent protests against corruption and poor governance. At least eight people have died and scores have been injured.
This is part of a broader wave of social protest that has been particularly strong in the country’s southern region. Beginning in Basra, Iraq’s most important oil region, which is suffering from water shortages, the protest has spread like wildfire to much of the Shia south.
Demonstrators are particularly angry at the poor infrastructure, high unemployment (10 per cent according to official figures but up to 60 per cent among young people), and widespread corruption.
Security forces have clashed with protesters after the latter tried to blockade Basra’s oil wells as well as some government buildings and the headquarters of political parties.
Iraqi premier Haider al-Abadi spoke about the violence, saying that using the protest to "burn public buildings" is "an attempt to push the country back". He also blamed "elements of organised crime".
Senior government officials today announced investments in schools, electricity and water resources, including US$ 3 billion for Basra province. But so far this has not been enough to quell the protest.
To curb the violence, the government has imposed a curfew on the most important towns in the southern region. Internet access and social media have also been blocked; the latter have been one of the means by which the protest has spread in Baghdad and the southern provinces.
The authorities fear that the protest – which has received the "blessing" of Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani – can spread even further and reach the streets of the capital.
The Basra region alone holds around 90 per cent of the country's oil and gas, but only 1 per cent of the workforce comes from the area, as oil companies prefer foreign workers.
An additional factor is the ban on growing rice and maize in a traditional farming area subject to a severe drought.
"The situation is not good at all,” Mgr Habib explained. “Tensions are bound to increase if the government does not introduce significant changes to its policies.".
The water crisis has had devastating effects "in southern Iraq, one of the hottest regions in the world, where temperatures can reach 53 Celsius."
The prelate noted that many have been killed and wounded, some "in Basra, where the protest began".
"People are demonstrating against unemployment, poverty, the lack of public services, power and water shortages, pollution, deterioration of the general situation, this despite the fact that the area is rich in oil and gas”.
In recent days, "we heard gunshots and saw the police use water cannons to prevent demonstrators from entering government buildings and oil company headquarters."