News24

Iraqis protest in 'Day of Rage'

2011-02-25 12:33

Baghdad - Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets on Friday to protest against corruption and a lack of basic services in an organised nationwide "Day of Rage" inspired by uprisings around the Arab world.

Protesters demonstrated throughout Iraq, from the northern city of Kirkuk to the southern oil hub of Basra.

The Arab world has erupted in protests seeking to oust long-standing rulers and improve basic services, although Iraqi demonstrations have been more focused on gripes over essential needs and end to corruption rather than a change in regime.

Hundreds of people carrying Iraqi flags and banners streamed into Baghdad's Tahrir Square, which was under heavy security. Military Humvees and security forces lined the streets around the square and nearby Jumhuriya bridge was blocked off with concrete blast walls.

A vehicle curfew was also in effect in the Iraqi capital.

"We are here for change to improve the situation of the country. The education system is bad. The health system is also bad. Services are going from bad to worse," said 27-year-old Lina Ali, part of a protest youth group on Facebook.

"There is no potable water, no electricity. Unemployment is growing, which can push the youth towards terrorist activities," she said.

Eight years after the US-led invasion which ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, development in Iraq remains slow and there are shortages in food, water, electricity and jobs.

Facebook protest

"Our demonstration is peaceful," Ali said as she stood in Tahrir Square carrying a bunch of flowers. "We want the government to hear our voices, the government that we chose. They should provide services for the people. Other countries are pushing their way for change, so why should we stay silent?"

At least two people were killed and 22 wounded in clashes between protesters and security forces in the northern town of Hawija, a police source said. Six others were wounded in the town of Sulaiman Pek, south of Kirkuk, a hospital source said.

Friday's protests were organised mainly through social networking site Facebook, echoing mass rallies mobilised by youth through social media which unseated Tunisia and Egypt's long-ruling presidents.

In recent weeks, protests have been mounting in cities and towns around Iraq. Several people have been killed and scores wounded in clashes between demonstrators and security forces.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has affirmed the right of Iraqis to protest peacefully but on Thursday he advised them to stay away from Friday's demonstration due to possible violence by al-Qaeda and members of Saddam's banned Baath party.

A weakened but stubborn insurgency is still capable of carrying out large-scale attacks in Iraq despite a big drop in overall violence since the peak of sectarian warfare in 2006-7.

Shi'ite clerics including revered Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Moqtada al-Sadr had also cautioned their followers about taking part in Friday's protests.