the exasperation of young people in southern Iraq

In Basra, in a region that supplies 90 percent of the country's oil exports, unemployment and militia violence have driven people to revolt.

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Protesters block the release of Basra to the large oil port of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq on 17 November.
Protesters block the release of Basra to the large oil port of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq on 17 November. Laurent Van der Stockt for "The World"

A thick smoke emerges from burning tires at the exit of Basra, the big city of southern Iraq. Dozens of young men, some masked with scarves and hoods, sticks in hand, block the access of vehicles to the port of Oum Qasr, sixty kilometers to the south. The atmosphere is tense, the crowd in a rage defiant face foreign faces, November 18 in the morning.

A month and a half after the beginning of the contest against the power, they want to harden the movement: to impose the general strike and block the entry of the only port of importation of the country and the oil installations which truffle the desert landscape. "It's the only way this government of thieves can hear us! They must all clear: the government, Parliament and the provincial council. Protesters get shot, stop, kidnapshouts Abu Ali, his voice muffled by his hood.

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The 22-year-old worker lists the wounds that plague this region at the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates, yet sitting on a real wealth of black gold: the shortages of water and electricity, services health and education in disuse, the scourge of drugs, lack of housing and especially jobs. While Basra supplies 90% of the country's oil exports – from 85% to 90% of its oil resources, or $ 79 billion (71.4 billion euros) expected in 2019 with 3.88 million barrels per day – a third of its young people are unemployed. They make up half of the 4.5 million people in the province.

Released by force

International oil companies employ mainly foreign executives and a labor force from Asia, more malleable and cheaper, in violation of the quotas of Iraqi workers imposed by law. The rest of the sector's jobs, and other industries in the region, is a bonus shared by the Shiite religious parties and their militias who have ruled Basra since 2003. "The oil companies, the port and the airport are controlled by the parties, they fill their pockets and take commissions on the contracts. It's a corruption in millions of dollars », accuses Abu Ali. He denounces their complicity in the increased hold of Iran. "The Iranian economy depends on us. To be able to import its consumer goods and develop its companies, Iran is destroying our agriculture and our industries ", abounds Ali, a 53-year-old worker.