By Ali Jawad
BAGHDAD (AA) – Iraqis in the southern Basra province on Monday held an open-ended sit-in at a major oilfield to demand improved public services, more job opportunities and an end to perceived government corruption.
“Hundreds of people from Basra’s northern Ezzeddin Salim district began holding an open-ended sit-in today,” Rafed al-Kanani, a demonstrator, told Anadolu Agency by phone.
According to al-Kanani, demonstrators have erected a number of tents near the entrance of Basra’s West Qurna 2 Oilfield, which is operated by Russian energy giant Lukoil.
“Protesters have told the security personnel responsible for the oilfield not to leave the area until the federal government has responded positively to their demands for jobs in the petroleum sector,” he said.
Monday’s sit-in coincided with a separate demonstration, which reportedly remains ongoing, outside Basra’s West Qurna 1 Oilfield, which is operated by U.S. energy concern Exxon Mobil.
Both oilfields produce roughly 400,000 barrels of oil per day, making them two of the country’s most lucrative petroleum facilities.
Since July 9, Iraq’s majority-Shia southern provinces — especially oil-rich Basra — have seen several popular protests to demand more employment opportunities and improved public utilities, especially water and electricity.
In an effort to contain the burgeoning protests, which last month spread to capital Baghdad, the government has vowed to provide more public-sector jobs and allocate funds for local development projects, especially the southern provinces.
Protest leaders, however, have expressed doubt as to the government’s ability to adequately address protesters’ grievances.
For years, Iraq’s political opposition has complained about poor public services in a country that earns tens of billions of dollars a year through oil sales.