Iraqis protest against unemployment, shut down major oil refinery

Protests against unemployment have been taking place for five days in a row in southern Iraq, causing massive fuel shortages in the region and adversely impacting oil production and refining at the Nasiriyah oil refinery

April 08, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Iraq protests

Protesters in southern Iraq once again blocked the entrance to the Nasiriyah oil refinery, agitating against the longstanding problem of unemployment in the region and the government’s failure to address the issue, Iraqi Oil Report said on Wednesday, April 7. Thousands of Iraqis employed in a wide range of industries, as well as recent college graduates,

are protesting in the region. According to reports, the protests have taken place for five consecutive days with widespread participation from university graduates, workers from the region’s predominant oil and energy sector, and teachers whose salaries have not been paid for months. 

According to multiple media reports, over the last few days, the day-to-day workings of the Nasiriyah refinery in the Dhi Qar province has been disrupted due to the protests. Around 200 unemployed graduates blocked the entry gate of the refinery and prevented employees from entering the facility. As a result, the Dhi Qar province experienced fuel shortages throughout the week, with many petrol pumps reportedly not having any fuel to operate.

The few petrol pumps which had fuel stocked up saw extended queues of customers waiting to fill up their tanks. The refinery also came out with a statement in which it warned that the protests “will cause fuel scarcity in the province… if the closure continues the movement of cars will stop completely.” 

Similar protests and sit-ins have been witnessed regularly in the oil-rich Dhi Qar region in recent months against widespread unemployment as well as other social and economic issues, such as non-payment of salaries, rising poverty, administrative failures, and political corruption and mismanagement. In February, the protests were met with violent crackdown by the security forces, ultimately leading to the deaths of five protesters and injuring 175 others. The protests intensified further after the government’s 2021 budget did not include any policies to address the unemployment problem in the country, particularly in the Dhi Qar region. Millions of ordinary Iraqi citizens are struggling to make ends meet in the current economic climate, worsened by the falling oil prices and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Iraqi economy has been trying to recover after the US-led Western invasion and occupation since 2003, which was followed by a massive spike in the growth and spread of extremism and terrorism. Successive governments backed by the West have failed to improve the economy or reform the country’s chaotic, sectarian and dysfunctional political and social climate. This led to massive nationwide protests demanding radical change in the country’s governance and political system, an end to corruption, improved public services, and solutions to economic problems such as poverty, unemployment, starvation, etc. 

Past Iraqi governments, instead of working towards improving the lives of Iraqi citizens, have tried to suppress the protests with excessive force and violence, leading to the deaths of approximately 600 protesters, and injuring close to 25,000 others. Popular anger ultimately resulted in the fall of the government of prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. Current prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has repeatedly promised to bring to justice those guilty of the killings and violence against the protesters. However, no prosecutions or convictions have taken place so far, leading to further distrust and discontent against his government.