Basra protests Iranian influence

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IN Iraq, Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) has been defeated, the Americans and their Coalition allies are long gone and oil production has just reached a new peak of 4.36 million barrels a day, making the country the second largest OPEC producer after the Kingdom. So why has the southern city of Iraq erupted in a week of protests which have seen government buildings attacked and around a score of demonstrators shot dead by the security forces?

The government of Haider Al-Abadi has no one else to blame except itself. Since he took over in 2014, Abadi has failed to undo the distortions and harm done to the country during the appalling administration of Nuri Al-Maliki. Maliki had hollowed out the army by firing competent and generally Sunni officers, replacing them with lickspittle military nonentities whose sole qualification for command was a slavish loyalty to him. Thus when a handful of Daesh (the so-called IS) terrorists mounted a probing raid on the defenses of Mosul, the army immediately fled, with most of its pathetic commanders leading the rout.

Maliki very quickly became addicted to power, assigning the significant security and defense ministries to his own control. In 2010 voters tired of his sectarian and divisive policies and gave a victory to the cross-communal Iraqiya party led by Ayad Allawi. But Maliki refused to quit and hung on to power by getting some of Allawi’s legislators banned as former Baathists.

The guiding hand behind Maliki was Tehran. The ayatollahs sent Qasim Suleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards with its Al-Quds force. Iranian officers trained and led Iraqi troops. Tehran also sent political advisers, whose guidance appears to have included how Maliki’s ministers and top officials could most effectively plunder Iraq’s hydrocarbon income. Indeed the corruption that is endemic in Iran rapidly took hold in Maliki’s Iraq. And along with it came the incompetence. The original 2003 US-led expulsion from public life and official positions of anyone who held a membership card for Saddam Hussein’s Baathist party was an egregious blunder. It robbed the country of talented experts who had become Baathists purely to get on in their professions. Maliki reversed an easing of this self-destructive policy, relying instead on “experts” sent by Tehran.

Abadi has taken too long trying to unpick the locks with which the Iranian regime sought to secure its malign influence on its neighbor. The Basra riots have served to highlight the extraordinary extent of the corruption and incompetence of the former government and its officials, many of whom unfortunately are still in place. This southern city of two million has frequent power cuts, crumbling infrastructure and thousands of people have been made seriously ill from drinking the highly-polluted water supplies. It is an outrage that the country’s key port close to one of its main oil-producing regions should have been reduced to enduring a Third World standard of living.

But the citizens of Basra are well aware of who is ultimately to blame for their scandalous misfortunes. In their angry riots this week, the protesters singled out and torched the Iranian consulate building. Premier Abadi must now act decisively. He should replace useless and venal officials and give their successors the money and resources to restore this once prosperous city. Successful reforms in Basra should then be rolled out in the rest of the country.


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