Thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets of Najaf, Basra, Maysan, Dhi Qar and Karbala, rallying against rising unemployment, corruption, poor governance and perceived Iranian interference. Smaller protests have also erupted in the capital, Baghdad. The scale and ferocity of the protests have seen security forces use live ammunition, tear gas, and water cannon on the crowds, killing at least 14 since July 8, according to police and medical sources. Despite being home to oilfields that account for the vast majority of the oil Iraq exports, these southern areas, like most of Iraq, remain largely underdeveloped, with residents suffering from chronic power outages, lack of access to clean and safe drinking water and uncollected waste. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who heads a fragile caretaker government, has pledged to release $3bn for the fledgeling services.
Despite being recently defeated from their major strongholds of Mosul and Tel Afar in Iraq, more than two years after Iraqi forces specifically sought to retake oil-rich areas from the Islamic State, its militants are continuing to steal, spill and smuggle crude oil from Iraqi oil fields as a means to wreak havoc and fund their spluttering but surviving campaign of terror. "While ISIS is steadily losing its hold on populated areas, it still controls a not-insignificant portion of territory that contains oil and oil infrastructure," Justin Dargin, global energy expert at the University of Oxford, told Fox News. "As a result, ISIS is continuing at a frantic pace to produce and smuggle as much oil as possible in a bid to acquire its ever-declining revenue base." According to Iraq's state-run North Oil Company (NOC), ISIS still controls scores of wellheads in parts of the northern Ajil field which are considered contested land between Iraq and Kurdish governments. The terror network still controls some 75 percent of the Alas Dome in the nearby and prominent Hamrin field, NOC adds.
A letter written by the wife of Iraqi Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani to the federal government in Baghdad has been leaked, triggering a media storm about a "political crisis" in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Hero Ibrahim Ahmad is now accused of plotting to block oil exports from Kirkuk, and of threatening to sell the city's oil to Iran instead. Sources close to Ibrahim Ahmad say these accusations are outlandish, and the leak - as well as the gross misrepresentation of the letter in local media - was intended as a smear campaign against the most influential female figure on the Kurdish political scene. Erbil-based news channels Rudaw and K24 both reported that Ibrahim Ahmad had asked Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for oil to be sold through Iran and that she was to blame for the delays in salary payments to civil servants and pensioners - contrary to the actual content of the letter. As her image flashed on television screens across the Middle East, her supporters claim she is being scapegoated for larger problems for which she holds little responsibility.
Hundreds demonstrated in eastern Iraq against a planned referendum on the secession of northern Iraq's Kurdish region, which neighbouring countries and Western powers fear could break up the country and stir regional ethnic and sectarian conflict. Protestors, who gathered outside the Baquba city council on Sunday, waved banners denouncing the September 25 vote and called on local authorities to ban the polls. "We are taking to the streets to express our rejection of this secession referendum," Salim Saleh, a protestor, told Anadolu news agency. The non-binding referendum will see Iraqis in areas under the control of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) - and in a handful of territories disputed between Erbil and Baghdad - vote whether to secede from Iraq. On Saturday, four Iraqi Kurdish soldiers were killed in an explosion in the province of Kirkuk, an area where the referendum is set to be held, Iraqi police said.
The Iraqi government held an emergency meeting on Saturday after protests against high unemployment and a lack of basic services spread to the nation's capital, Baghdad. The National Security Council was urgently convened under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and decided to cut internet access in the capital to prevent the unrest from spreading further, Anadolu Agency reported. Hundreds of Iraqi protesters stormed government buildings in the south of the country on Friday and occupied Najaf International Airport, demanding better services, job opportunities and an end to alleged Iranian interference. In the latest in a week of daily protests against corruption and poor governance, demonstrators clashed with security forces in several provinces, including Maysan, Dhi Qar, Basra, Najaf and Karbala. At least one person was killed and 15 injured in Maysan when Iraqi forces shot at protesters after they attacked and set fire to office buildings used by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's Islamic Dawa Party, the Iranian-backed Al-Badr Organisation and the Shia Supreme Islamic Council Party.