Months Of Protests Roil Iraq's Oil Capital Basra Iraqis have been protesting over faltering public services and lack of jobs in Basra, the country's main port city and the heart of its southern oil fields.
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Months Of Protests Roil Iraq's Oil Capital Basra

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Months Of Protests Roil Iraq's Oil Capital Basra

Months Of Protests Roil Iraq's Oil Capital Basra

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All right, Iraq is in the process of trying to form a new government, and it is already facing one of its first tests in the port city of Basra. Basra is the center of Iraq's oil industry. And in recent months, it's been the scene of unrest as residents blame leaders for power outages and badly contaminated water. Here's more from NPR's Jane Arraf.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Ahmed Hussein, 23 and unemployed, turns on the tap in the courtyard of his house and tastes the water gushing out.

AHMED HUSSEIN: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: He says it's really salty.

MONA HADI: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: His mother, Mona Hadi, says she can't even cook with it. People get sick if they drink it. They scrape together money to buy tanks of water instead.

HADI: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: Basra's decrepit water treatment plants can't cope with the saline water caused by drought and dams upstream in Iran and Turkey that have cut the freshwater supply. The water is so contaminated, thousands of people have been hospitalized after consuming it. Others suffered just from washing with it.

ABBAS KHUTHAYAR: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: Abbas Khuthayar calls over his son and daughter. Hussein lifts up his shirt. Azal rolls up her sleeve.

KHUTHAYAR: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: The little boy's stomach and the girl's arms are covered in raised pink and white welts from bathing in the water. The local mosque has been handing out a cream to treat it. Most people can't afford medicine here.

Basra should be rich. It's Iraq's oil hub. But even if you're in a wealthy neighborhood, the government still doesn't provide basic services. Khuthayar says that's why there's so much support for the demonstrations.

KHUTHAYAR: (Through interpreter) The protests are for water and jobs and electricity and health care. If you don't have money here, you die.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

ARRAF: Neighborhoods like this one, al-Aleea, sprung up after Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003, when people squatted on land and began building. You can hear Shia religious music playing from houses during religious commemorations.

This neighborhood is little alleys. And a lot of the houses here - well, they're not really houses. They're concrete blocks with scrap metal piled on top for roofs. And there's trash everywhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

ARRAF: In the 1990s Basra's Shia population rebelled against Saddam. They suffered terribly for it. It's hard to believe. But even here, 15 years of neglect and corruption have sparked a nostalgia for those days.

ALLA JAWAD: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: "It was a state, a state with laws," says Alla Jawad, a security guard. He says, "now we don't have a functioning state, and people still don't have rights."

Jane Arraf, NPR News, Basra.

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