Hundreds of Iraqis on Wednesday, March 9, took to the streets in protest against the rise in prices of food commodities, including wheat and other food grains and essential cooking items like oil and flour over the course of the last week. The protests took place predominantly in the neglected southern regions of Iraq, also the epicenter of the massive anti-government protests in 2019. The Iraqi government in the meantime announced several measures to control the prices of essential food items and to provide some relief to ordinary Iraqis dealing with acute shortages and exorbitant prices of basic goods.
According to reports, more than 500 protesters gathered in the central square in the city of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq and denounced the government for the rising inflation and its abject failure to bring prices under control through timely measures. The protesters also condemned traders, accusing them of manipulating prices and arbitrarily increasing them. The Iraqi interior ministry stated that it had arrested 31 people accused of “raising the prices of food commodities and abusing citizens.” In a similar protest held in the central province of Babil on Tuesday, one protester was seriously injured after the protest turned violent.
Among the measures taken by the government to provide economic relief is a monthly allowance of around USD 70 for pensioners whose incomes do not exceed one million dinars (around USD 700) and civil servants earning less than 500,000 dinars (USD 343). Other measures include suspension of customs duties on food products, basic consumer goods, and construction materials for two months. The government blamed the rise in prices on the conflict currently taking place between Ukraine and Russia. Trade ministry spokesperson Mohamed Hanoun in a statement said that “there’s a major global crisis because Ukraine has a large share of [the world market in cooking] oils.”
Iraq has been ravaged by years of foreign invasion and western military intervention led by the United States and NATO, which attacked the country in 2003 causing millions of civilian casualties and widespread damage to the infrastructure and economy. Subsequent governments elected in Iraq, most of them backed by the West, have failed to resolve the political crisis and heal the sectarian divides among the many different political and religious factions. Successive governments have also failed to improve the economic conditions in the country. Several economic issues such as unemployment, poverty, corruption, government mismanagement, and declining living conditions and public services continue to plague the common man. Years of economic decline and government apathy finally culminated in nationwide protests in 2019 which continued for several months, leading to the resignation of the then prime minister and a change in government. The protests were met with violent crackdown by the security forces, resulting in over 600 protesters being killed and tens of thousands injured.