A Locality in Crisis: A Study of the Local Governance Crisis and Public Protests in Basra

Conflict Research Small Grants Programme

Principal Investigators: Omar Al-Jaffal and Safaa Khalaf
Duration: January 2019 – April 2020
Supported by: UK Department for International Development (DfID)

City workers cleaning up the al-Ashar Canal, Basra, June 2009. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Iraqi district of Basra, apart from being extremely oil-rich, is the country's only gateway to the sea, and it borders three countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. These geopolitical factors have made the region central to the political and economic life of Iraq. Despite this, Basra's three million residents continue to suffer from poor service provision. Shortages in drinking water and electricity, particularly around the summer, became a trigger for decade-long public protests.

The reasons for the persistent services crisis vary; one reason is the very small share of the total Iraqi annual budget that Basra receives. Another is the district’s poor infrastructure, which has not been maintained since the end of the Iran–Iraq war in the late 1980s. In 2007, the British army launched a 70 million GBP project to maintain the district’s infrastructure, but as with other development projects in post-2003 Iraq, corruption and the misuse of public money are said to have destined the project to failure.

This project analyses the role of, and challenges facing, local governance in the Basra district of Iraq in light of the ongoing crisis in service provision. It also aims to examine the public’s responses to the crisis and its political causes and implications on state-citizen dynamics in the district, and in Iraq generally. Unlike most studies of Basra’s crisis which focus on the role of the federal government, this study will address the crisis through local lenses.

This project forms part of the Conflict Research Programme, funded by the UK Department for International Development to provide research and policy advice on how the risk and impact of violent conflict might be more effectively reduced through development and governance interventions.

Research Team


Omar Al-Jaffal | Principal Investigator 

Omar is an Iraqi journalist, researcher and poet. His writings have appeared in Al-Monitor, Asia Times and Assafir Al-Arabi, and he has published two poetry collections. In 2017, he was awarded the Mostafa Al-Hosseiny Prize for Arab young journalists.


Safaa Khalaf | Principal Investigator

Safaa is an Iraqi journalist and researcher in sociology and political analysis. He recently published a book titled "Iraq after ISIS: Crises of Over-Optimism". In 2017, he was awarded the Naseej Prize by the French Agency for International Cooperation.



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