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Halt of Nassirya Oilfield Will Not Affect Exports as Iraq Protesters Go on Strike

Halt of Nassirya Oilfield Will Not Affect Exports as Iraq Protesters Go on Strike

Sunday, 29 December, 2019 - 11:00
Iraq protesters go on general strike Diwaniya. (AFP)

Halting production from Iraq's southern Nassiriya oilfield on Saturday by protesters will not affect the country's exports and production operations, the oil ministry said on Sunday.

Iraq will use additional output from southern oilfields in Basra to make up for the missing shipments from Nassiriya field and the closure of field's operations are temporary, the ministry said in a statement.

A senior manager at the state-run Basra Oil Co. said they can increase production from Majnoon southern and other small oilfields operated by the state-run company.

The incident marks the first time protesters have shut an entire oilfield, though they have blocked entrances to refineries and ports in the past. Iraq’s economy depends on oil exports which make up more than 90% of revenues for OPEC’s second larger producer.

No foreign companies operate at the Nassiriya oilfield and state-run teams are managing the operations.

Production operations at Nassiriya, which produces 80,000-85,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd), were stopped after protesters closed roads and prevented workers from reaching the field, said the ministry statement.

Protesters broke into Iraq's southern Nassiriya oilfield on Saturday and forced employees to cut off electricity from its control station, taking the field offline.

Mass protests have gripped Iraq since Oct. 1 and protesters, most of them young, are demanding an overhaul of a political system they see as profoundly corrupt and keeping most Iraqis in poverty. More than 450 people have been killed and 25,000 wounded.

Protesters are demanding the removal of the entire ruling elite seen as enriching itself off the state and serving foreign powers — above all Iran — as many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, healthcare or education - and the appointment of a premier with no party affiliation.

General strike

Sit-in protests have shut down state offices and schools across the Shiite-majority south for weeks, and demonstrators again declared a "general strike" in Diwaniya on Sunday, the first day of the working week.

Mass rallies and picket lines also paralyzed Kout, al-Hilla, Amara and the shrine city of Najaf, AFP correspondents said.

The activists scored a partial success in November with the resignation of prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, who however remains in charge in a caretaker role.

Pro-Iranian and other political factions have since wrangled over finding a successor -- so far without success.

And although parliament has just voted for an electoral reform package, there has been no indication that the early polls many citizens are calling for will be held anytime soon.

Heightening the turmoil, President Barham Salih last week threatened to resign rather than put forward the name of a pro-Iran candidate to form the next government.

Nassiriya student demonstrator Osama Ali praised the head of state, saying he had "foiled the attempts by parties and militiamen to kill off the revolution to protect their own interests".

"This gives us hope to continue our peaceful movement until we obtain all our demands," he told AFP.

The protesters also want justice for those activists who have been murdered, many shot dead in the streets or outside their homes.

Dozens have also reported being abducted to rural areas near Baghdad for several hours or days before being abandoned by the roadside.

The United Nations has accused "militias" of waging a sweeping campaign of threats, kidnappings and murders of demonstrators.

The state-run Human Rights Commission says it has still not heard from 56 missing activists.

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