Country Risk

Protests in Iraq’s Basra likely throughout 2019, but security force presence mitigates disruption risk to oil sites

05 February 2019

Iraqi protesters burn tyres and block a road during a demonstration against corruption and lack of services in Basra on 11 January 2019. Source: Hussein Faleh/AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

  • Protests driven by high youth unemployment in Basra are likely throughout 2019, but the risk of major disruption to oil sites is likely to be mitigated by security forces' readiness to use lethal force.
  • Shia politicians and their militias view Basra primarily as an arena for competition; political infighting will therefore overshadow any attempt at improving conditions in the province that might otherwise placate protesters.
  • Violent protests in Basra are unlikely to translate into a wider political movement that would co-ordinate action with activists in neighbouring provinces; such a scenario would increase risks of government instability.


Clients have expressed concern over the likelihood of recurrent protests in Basra province, driven by the failure of basic services and youth unemployment, affecting the security and operations of energy sector sites. IHS Markit has recorded and assessed the impact of protest activity in the province.

Protests have largely taken place in Basra city centre, focusing on the provincial government building and public squares, roads, and bridges. Protesters regularly surrounded and occasionally set fire to government buildings, and blockaded roads with burning tyres. By contrast, the oil industry and ports were largely unaffected. In July 2018, however, protests denied access to port workers at Umm Qasr Port, closing the north and south ports to ground cargo vehicles for a short period. Locals also staged protests directed at foreign oil companies in the form of sit-ins or road blockades designed to disrupt access to the oil sites; several of these took place in West Qurna-2. These have been peaceful for the most part, although on 7 September 2018, protesters broke into a Lukoil water treatment facility at West Qurna-2 and held two local employees hostage.

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