SUN 12 - 7 - 2020
Date: Nov 19, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Protesters block Iraq port as strikes take hold
BASRA, Iraq: Protesters blocked entry to Iraq’s main commodities port again Monday while schools and government offices in many southern cities were shut in response to calls for a general strike.

At least 315 people have been killed since the start of mass unrest in Baghdad and southern Iraq in early October, the largest demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Protesters are demanding the overthrow of a political class seen as corrupt and beholden to foreign interests. Unsatisfied by government reform promises they see as meager, many have turned to civil disobedience tactics.

Hundreds Monday blocked the entrance to the Umm Qasr commodities port near Basra, preventing employees and tankers from entering and bringing operations down by 50 percent, two port sources said.

If the blockage goes on, operations will come to a complete halt, the sources said. The port was previously blocked from Oct. 29 to Nov. 9 with a brief resumption of operations Nov. 7-9.

“Our protests in Umm Qasr are in solidarity with our brothers in Tahrir Square and other provinces,” protester Karim Jawad said, referring to the main protest site in Baghdad.

Umm Qasr is Iraq’s main Gulf port. It receives imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar shipments that feed a country largely dependent on imported food.

The blockage cost the country more than $6 billion during just the first week of the closure, a government spokesman said at the time.

In the southern cities of Hillah, Diwaniya and the Shiite holy city of Karbala, most schools and government offices were closed after the teachers union declared a strike and others followed suit. There were partial closures in the Shiite holy city of Najaf and some Baghdad schools were also closed.

In Kerbala, most shops and markets were closed in response to a call from the local trade chamber. In Hillah and Diwaniya, the striking workers joined the main protest camps in the city centers.

In the southern city of Nasiriyah, all schools and government offices were closed but hospitals remained open. One protester died from wounds sustained there Friday.

In Baghdad, labor unions marched to central Tahrir Square to join thousands of protesters who have been camped out there since Oct. 24. Protesters regained control of a third bridge leading into the capital’s Green Zone Sunday, part of a weekslong attempt to disrupt traffic and reach the fortified complex that houses government buildings and foreign missions.

The unrest has shattered the relative calm that followed the defeat of Daesh (ISIS) in 2017.

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