Gunfights break out and death toll rises as violent protests rage across southern Iraq

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The demonstrations were against state corruption, failing public services and unemployment at Tayaran square in Baghdad. (AFP)
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Demonstrators, in Baghdad, Iraq on Wednesday. (Reuters)
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A demonstrator gestures near burning tires blocking a road during a protest over unemployment, corruption and poor public services, in Baghdad on Tuesday. (Reuters)
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Anti-government protesters chant slogans during a protest in Baghdad. (AP)
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A protestor in Baghdad fuels a burning barricade during demonstrations on Wednesday. (AFP)
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A man carries away a demonstrator, injured during protests in Baghdad. (Reuters)
Updated 04 October 2019

Gunfights break out and death toll rises as violent protests rage across southern Iraq

  • The protests started on Tuesday over unemployment, corruption, and poor public services
  • Police and the army opened fire and launched tear gas canisters to disperse hundreds of protesters all over Baghdad

BAGHDAD: At least five people died, including a police officer, and dozens were injured on Wednesday in a second day of protests in Iraq.

Thousands demonstrated in Baghdad and Shiite-dominated southern provinces against corruption, unemployment and the failure of public services such as water and electricity.

Protesters torched government and political party headquarters, and cut off main roads linking Baghdad with the north and south. Riot squads and rapid-intervention forces responded with water cannon, tear gas and live bullets.



“We want jobs and better public services. We’ve been demanding them for years and the government has never responded,” said protester Abdallah Walid, 27. Unemployed graduate Mohammad Jubury said: “No state would attack its own people like this. We’re being peaceful, but they fired.”

Among the victims of the violence was a child burned to death in his mother’s car as it passed over a tire set on fire by protesters to block the road in Al-Zaafaraniya in southeast Baghdad.

In Nassiriya, the capital of Dhi Qar province 400km south of Baghdad, protesters broke into the provincial council building and set fire to part of it. Three protesters were killed and dozens of people were injured, including security forces. Authorities imposed a curfew from 8pm.

In Babil and Missan governorates, demonstrators stormed the provincial council buildings and set fire to them. In Najaf, Samawah and Basra, they were halted by security cordons.

In Baghdad, thousands took to the streets from early morning, and cut off the main road to Baghdad airport. They tried several times to cross Al-Jumhuriya Bridge toward the government buildings and embassies in the heavily fortified Green Zone, but were repelled by tear gas and gunfire.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi held an emergency session of the National Security Council, and called for calm. After the meeting he contacted prominent tribal sheikhs to ask for their help in halting the protests, but they refused, a senior official in the National Security Agency told Arab News.

In an attempt to thwart the protests, internet access across much of Iraq was blocked and Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp were disabled.  Security sources said there was no evidence that the protests were spontaneous. “Whoever says the demonstrations are unorganized, and not backed by some sides, is naive,” a senior federal police officer in Baghdad told Arab News.

“They have paralyzed traffic in all areas of Baghdad by burning tires, and moving toward the airport seems deliberate. These do not seem random or spontaneous actions. We do not believe these demonstrations will end soon, and they may end with the overthrow of the government.”

The US embassy in Baghdad said it was closely monitoring the situation, and called on all parties to exercise restraint and not to use excessive force.

The powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr said he did not want to politicize the protests, but he nevertheless called on his followers to support the demonstrators.

This was seen by many observers as a message to Abdul Mahdi that he must understand the limits of his authority. “Abdul Mahdi came to the post with the support of Sadr and his political bloc, but recently he has moved away from all that Sadr wanted,” Saad Ahmad, an activist, told Arab News. “So I think Sadr will leave Abdul Mahdi to fall now.”

Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost

Updated 12 December 2019

Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost

  • For Oman and other Gulf states dominated by vast deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high cost
  • In Sur, water for residents and businesses comes from a large desalination plant

SUR, OMAN: “We have water, and it’s the most important thing in a house,” says Abdullah Al-Harthi from the port city of Sur in Oman, a country that relies on desalination plants.
But for Oman and the other Gulf countries dominated by vast and scorching deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high financial and environmental cost.
In Sur, south of the capital Muscat, water for residents and businesses comes from a large desalination plant that serves some 600,000 people.
“Before, life was very difficult. We had wells, and water was delivered by trucks,” the 58-year-old told AFP. “Since the 1990s, water has come through pipes and we’ve had no cuts.”
But these benefits — relying on energy intensive processes that produce carbon emissions — do not come without a cost, particularly as global temperatures rise.
The United Nations says 2019 is on course to be one of the hottest three years on record.
And there is another impact: the desalination plants produce highly concentrated salt water, or brine, that is often dumped back into the ocean.
Researchers say more than 16,000 desalination plants around the globe produce more toxic sludge than freshwater.
For every liter of freshwater extracted from the sea or brackish water, a liter-and-a-half of salty slurry is deposed at sea or on land, according to a 2019 study in the journal Science.
All that extra salt raises the temperature of coastal waters and decreases the level of oxygen, which can conspire to create biological “dead zones.”
The super-salty substance is made even more toxic by the chemicals used in the desalination process.
Oman’s bigger neighbors produce the bulk of the brine.
More than half comes from just four countries — Saudi Arabia, at 22 percent, United Arab Emirates with 20 percent, and smaller shares by Kuwait and Qatar, according to UN data.
“Brine production in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar accounts for 55 percent of the total global share,” according to the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.
It said new strategies are needed “to limit the negative environmental impacts and reduce the economic cost of disposal.”
This would help “to safeguard water supplies for current and future generations.”
At the Sur plant, “almost no chemicals” are used during the pre-treatment phase, as the water is naturally filtered through the cracks of karst rocks, said Mahendran Senapathy, operations manager at French company Veolia which runs the plant along with an Omani firm.
There are other ways to safeguard freshwater supplies, from encouraging savings and efficiently to recycling wastewater.
Antoine Frerot, chief executive of Veolia, said wastewater recycling will help resolve the problem of water scarcity.
He also pointed out that “reused water is less costly,” nearly one third less than that won through desalination.
Omani authorities continue to mount campaigns urging people to use water wisely, mindful that other demands — especially the energy sector — also guzzle up large amounts.
Across the Gulf, huge amounts of water are used not just for homes, gardens and golf courses, but also for the energy sector that is the source of the region’s often spectacular wealth.
On the edge of the Arabian peninsula’s “Empty Quarter,” the world’s largest expanse of sand, lies the Khazzan gas field, operated by BP and the Oman Oil Company.
The method used to extract the gas here is hydraulic fracturing — more commonly known as fracking — said Stewart Robertson, operations manager at the site.
The method requires huge amounts of water. The site is supplied by a facility that provides 6,000 cubic meters of water a day, extracted from an underground aquifer 50 kilometers (30 miles) away.
Fracking involves directional drilling and then pumping water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to fracture rock and release the hydrocarbons.
The rock formations that hold the gas are “like a big sponge with lots of little holes in it,” said Robertson, explaining that fracking is the process “to open those holes slightly to take the gas out.”
So the more the region extracts oil and natural or shale gas, “the more they need water,” said Charles Iceland of the World Resources Institute.
“The Middle East is projected to need more and more energy,” he said. “So that means the situation is going to get worse.”
“On the other hand,” he said, “if they can produce power using solar photovoltaic technologies, which are getting reasonably priced in the Middle East, that would take care of a lot of the problem because solar PV doesn’t need much water.
“You need just some water to clean the solar panels.”