The security situation in southern Iraq may be changing. An armed group attacked the headquarters of a Chinese-operated electricity distribution center in Nasiriyah, Dhi Qar province, opening fire at the facility before finally being pushed back by security services. Afterward, the company's spokesman said eight masked men attacked the facility hoping to get the company to abandon the project, adding that the gunmen entered the electricity distribution department, without being searched, and fired on security forces that were supervising control and inspection points. No casualties were reported. It's not clear who was behind the attack or whether it was politically or criminally motivated.
The attack is an anomaly in several respects, regardless. Though using the threat of violence to achieve political ends is not uncommon in Iraq, outright attacks against foreign companies in the southern part of the country are. There has been progress there on long-proposed plans to privatize some aspects of Iraq's electricity sector, even though in other parts of the country the government's attempts have been strongly rejected. In Dhi Qar, the provincial council voted against Baghdad's plans but offered its own 13-point plan, while lobbying the Dhi Qar governor to stop two privatization projects in Nasiriyah. Actual operations by the Chinese company at the project started in mid-July, so the timing of the attack and the demands that have been reported seem to indicate the attack was politically rather than criminally motivated.
What's still unclear is whether the attackers have ties to different political parties or leaders, many of whom have their own militias. If politically linked militias begin to carry out, or even turn a blind eye toward, attacks in southern Iraq, it would set a new precedent.