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Iraqis protest rise in food prices, officials blame Ukraine war

Iraqis demonstrate to denounce rising prices of basic food items in the centre the city of Nasiriyah in the southern Dhi Qar province
— Nasiriyah (Iraq) (AFP)

Protests erupted Wednesday in Iraq's impoverished south over a rise in food prices that officials attributed to the conflict in Ukraine.

For about a week, the price of cooking oils and flour have skyrocketed in local markets as government officials have sought to address growing anger with various statements and measures.

More than 500 protesters gathered in a central square in the southern city of Nasiriyah -- a flashpoint of anti-corruption protests that gripped the country in 2019.

"The rise in prices is strangling us, whether it is bread or other food products," retired teacher Hassan Kazem said. "We can barely make ends meet."

On Tuesday, the Iraqi government announced measures to confront the increase in international prices.

These included a monthly allowance of about $70 for pensioners whose income does not exceed one million dinars (almost $700), as well as civil servants earning less than 500,000 dinars.

The authorities also announced the suspension of customs duties on food products, basic consumer goods and construction materials for two months.

Trade ministry spokesman Mohamed Hanoun attributed the rise in cooking oil prices to the conflict in Ukraine.

"There's a major global crisis because Ukraine has a large share of (the world market in cooking) oils," he said.

On Tuesday, a protester was seriously injured in a demonstration in the central province of Babil that was marred by violence, a security source said.

The interior ministry announced it had arrested 31 people accused of "raising the prices of food commodities and abusing citizens".

A protester in Nasiriyah on Wednesday denounced the "greed of traders who manipulate prices".

Both Russia and Ukraine are major producers of foodstuffs, including sunflower oil and wheat, and the Middle East is partiuclarly dependent on imports from the two countries.

Iraq was rocked by nationwide protests in 2019 against rampant corruption, a lack of job opportunities and poor living conditions.

More than 600 people were killed and tens of thousands injured during the demonstrations.