BASRA, Iraq – Protesters took to the streets of Iraq’s southern city of Basra on Friday to demand greater regional autonomy from Iraq’s central government.
“Today, the people of Basra are sending a positive message to the federal government and the world, that the will and future of the people of Basra is to inhale the air of freedom and redemption from the dictatorial factions that the federal government is to establish,” said Hussein al-Karim, a protester.
“We want to rebuild Basra, and we are not going to take over the oil, it’s the wealth of all Iraqis. We assure you that we are not having that ugly segregated behaviour, don’t try us because we are going through the process of setting up a provincial government despite the consequences,” he added.
Amid mass protests against federal government policies and neglect, Basra’s Provincial Council recently voted to hold a referendum on making Basra an autonomous region, much like the Kurdistan Region.
“I have a message for the people of Basra. I want them to be confident and solid. I want them to be self-reliant and to have confidence in your protest leaders,” Ali Bahar, a Basra resident, said.
“They have to be from Basra. We have good technocrats as engineers and doctors who are ready to rebuild Basra over a two-year period. And they are ready to take an oath in front of the highest courts and in front of the three branches of government and religious references to rebuild Basra in two years and to curb unemployment within a year,” he added.
Although Basra hosts Iraq’s main port and produces the biggest share of its oil, the province has no control over its revenues.
All decisions are made in the federal capital Baghdad.
“We demand that Basra becomes a province, not a segregated province. It’s a federal province and it contains an all-Iraqi governorate, if it is possible that Iraq becomes a federal country,” Mustafa Fares, an activist from Basra, said.
Last summer, protests over water quality, power blackouts and unemployment turned violent, killing 14 protesters.