Protest in Basra over sporadic electricity, lack of potable water leaves 1 dead

By Aziz Alwan and Leila Fadel
Sunday, June 20, 2010

BAGHDAD -- At least one person was killed and three others were injured Saturday in the southern port city of Basra when police fired into a crowd of unruly protesters demanding electricity and potable water to help cope with the blistering summer heat, officials and witnesses said.

Frustration is running high across the country as Iraqis complain that they get only a few hours of electricity a day.

The protesters threw bricks and stones and tried to rush the provincial government building. The violence prompted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to send a delegation to Basra, the hub of Iraq's oil wealth, to address the electricity problem. He said in a statement that electricity officials should be held accountable for the shortages.

More than three months after Iraq's national elections, Iraqi anger is growing as the political elite jockey for top jobs. Despite the convening of parliament this week, the formation of a government is weeks, if not months, away.

Many say officials care more about a seat of power than public services.

"What happened this morning is because of the fake promises by the government to improve the essential services," said Hameed al-Timimi, a protester and Basra resident. "This is not just a problem in Basra, it is all over Iraq."

According to the Brookings Institution, more electricity is being generated today in Iraq than before the U.S. invasion. But demand is nearly twice as high as supply. Most homes in the capital receive about four hours of electricity a day.

Iraq's newspapers carry political cartoons mocking the state of the infrastructure. In one, a family drenched in sweat waits in line for a turn to stand in front of a fan operated by a generator.

Iraqis typically pay about $200 a month for generator power that can run one or two appliances in their homes when the electricity is out. Iraqis have taken to unconventional means to beat the heat. Some sit in their cars with the air conditioning on or drench themselves in water before sleeping on cool tile floors.

The protesters in Basra marched with a coffin representing electricity affixed to a minivan. One man jumped onto the coffin and wept to show grief for the lack of services.

Local government officials said the police shooting was being investigated. Protesters said they would probably demonstrate again after the funeral for the man, Haider Salman, who was killed Saturday.

Also Saturday, sporadic violence continued in the capital. Three roadside bombs killed two people and wounded 14, including four policemen. A rocket attack killed one person, and five women were found dead in their home.

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