Iraqis protest power and food shortages; 3 shot

Feb 3
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi police opened fire on Thursday to disperse hundreds of angry residents protesting against shortages of power, water and other services near the southern city of Diwaniya, wounding three, officials said.

The crowd of about 1,000 tried to force its way into a local council building in the al-Hamza district south of the Diwaniya provincial capital, demanding improved food rations and more power and water.

Diwaniya is a poor, largely Shi’ite province that has suffered serious shortages. Protesters accused Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of breaking promises to improve services.

“The protesters threw stones at police. Police opened fire at them, wounding three,” said Raad al-Zaidi, an adviser to Diwaniya Governor Salem Hussein.

“There was no reason to open fire. It doesn’t matter if they tried to raid the place or threw stones.”

Protesters set tires ablaze, hurled stones and tried to storm the local police station, witnesses said.

Some of the demonstrators held bundles of tea and sugar, while others carried small oil lanterns, to demonstrate the lack of staples and power, witnesses said.

“We have to buy everything, water, electricity and food staples because of the acute lack of these materials and services,” said protester Lazim al-Khazali, a taxi driver.

“We have had no water for three days and because sewage flooded the city streets as a result of heavy rain, I could not work for a few days.”

Similar protests were held last June in the southern oil hub of Basra, where police opened fire to disperse several thousand protesters demanding the resignation of Electricity Minister Karim Waheed. Two protesters died.

Dozens also demonstrated over lack of services in Baghdad’s Husseiniya district Monday.

Maliki’s new government has been in place for just over a month, following nine months of tense negotiations between political factions after an inconclusive election last March. Lack of electricity supply is one of Iraqis’ chief complaints.

Nearly eight years after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, the national grid supplies only a few hours of power per day, driving up costs for businesses and compounding summer heat, when temperatures reach above 50 degrees Celsius.

Iraq has big plans to install turbines and capture gas at oilfields to ramp up electricity production, and needs to spend $77 billion to improve the power sector by 2030, according to a master plan.

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