23 September 2018
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Pollution and corruption are choking the life out of Basra

Thursday, 13 September 2018 20:37
A boy collects dead fish from a reservoir near Basra, where saltwater has polluted the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Photograph A boy collects dead fish from a reservoir near Basra, where saltwater has polluted the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Photograph

Salty, foul water flows through the pipes of Basra: a city racked by high unemployment, broken healthcare and education systems, drugs smuggled in across the borders and cooked up at home with Iranian raw materials. Millions of landmines from wars past hem in the city, even as militias – the armed wings of Shia political parties, given new life by the fight against Isis – tyrannise its people. Even the clean, clear river that my brother and I used to fish from is now a muddy creek filled with sewage and sickness.

All this and more came together in the explosion of fury in Basra this past week, driving thousands of citizens into the streets to demand their rights. This unrest may surprise many in the west, where the conflicts of the region are often seen through the lens of sectarian strife. Yet many Iraqis are tired of Iran treating Iraq like its own backyard – a shared Shiite faith has been used to exploit Iraq’s wealth rather than build up its people. Most of the demonstrators are young people, under the age of 30. They were children when the United States, the United Kingdom and others invaded Iraq in 2003and toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime – paving the way for Iran’s expanded influence through the Shia parties that took power in Baghdad.

The demonstrations began peacefully – I joined the first crowds that gathered around the local government offices in al-Sa’i, the heart of Basra. Some protests turned into rioting, although no more than the usual vandalism that accompanies any popular uprising. Soon, though, pro-Iranian parties and Iran itself seized on the issue.

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