Iraqi parliament leader Muqtada al-Sadr believes the central government should turn over electrical services to the private sector. The call for action comes in the wake of nationwide protests over mass power outages and other essential services issues. The protests have become increasingly violent over the last few days, forcing Iraqi Security Forces to respond. Sadr has proposed that the Iraqi government outsource electrical responsibilities to “foreign, non-occupying” businesses, implying that the use of companies headquartered in the West is out of the question. The privatization would improve all electrical services, according to Sadr.

Sadr came to be the victor in parliamentary elections this May by standing on a platform that targeted the lower income citizens as potential voters. Sadr demanded the Iraqi government “move forward with privatizing electricity, with the condition of handing it over to private Iraqi or foreign companies and the removal of bill collection from the corridors of the corrupt government.” He said the government should provide generators to the rural villages and more impoverished communities. He requested that the Iraqi people get on board with national conservation efforts and pay their electrical bills promptly as well.

Basra has seen the worst of the protests as temperatures soared to new highs this week, frustration over the power outages combined with the inescapable heat have made protesters enraged. Protesters have demanded steady electricity, clean water, and gainful employment. They are currently threatening to take over the Iranian border crossing from Iraq if their demands are not met. One protester was killed last week in Basra when Iraqi Security Forces shot him.

Sadr has pleaded with protesters to maintain a peaceful presence to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. He claims that a delegation will soon be sent to visit representatives of the groups protesting. Sadr also expressed his desire to lead a “demonstration of a million,” to achieve results. Sadr has led similar gatherings in Baghdad as an outspoken anti-government activist and Islamic cleric.

Update: protesters have taken control of the Iranian border crossing as well as the Najaf airport.

Featured image: Iraqi citizens wait in line at a polling site in the city of Husaybah, Iraq to vote during the country’s first parliamentary election. Iraqi citizens elected their first permanent parliamentary government, which will lead the new democracy for the next four years. | U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Sheila M. Brooks