Monday, February 28, 2011

Deaths in Iraq pro-reform rallies

At least 12 protesters killed by security forces, amid nationwide "day of
rage" against corruption and poor services.

Feb 25, 2011 Al Jazeera

Thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets across the country to
protest against corruption and a lack of basic services in an organised
nationwide "day of rage", inspired by uprisings around the Arab world.

In two northern Iraqi cities, security forces trying to push back crowds
opened fire on Friday, killing at least 12 demonstrators.

In Baghdad, the capital, demonstrators knocked down blast walls, threw
rocks and scuffled with club-wielding troops.

Hundreds of people carrying Iraqi flags and banners streamed into
Baghdad's Tahrir Square, which was under heavy security.

Military vehicles and security forces lined the streets around the square
and nearby Jumhuriya bridge was blocked off.

Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad, said there was a violent
standoff between the protesters and the riot police on the bridge that
leads to the heavily fortified Green Zone.

Ahmed Rushdi, head of the House of Iraq Expertise Foundation, tried to
join the protests in Baghdad but was prevented from doing so by the army.

"This is not a political protest, but a protest by the people of Iraq. We
want social reform, jobs for young people and direct supervision because
there is lots of corruption," Rushdi told Al Jazeera.

"If [prime minister Nouri] al-Maliki does not listen, we will continue
this protest. He told everyone that we are Saddamists, but that is not
right. We are normal Iraqi people."

Eight years after the US-led invasion which ousted Saddam Hussein, the
former Iraqi leader, development in the country remains slow and there are
shortages of food, water, electricity and jobs.

Protesters confirmed that they were protesting for a better life and
better basic services.

"We are free young men and we are not belonging to a certain ideological
movement but we ask for our simple legitimate demands that include the
right of education and the right of decent life,” Malik Abdon, a
protester, said.

'Al-Qaeda threat'

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 anger over a lack of essential needs and an end to
corruption rather than a change in government.

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

A crowd of angry marchers in the northern city of Hawija, 240km north of
Baghdad, tried to break into the city's municipal building, Ali Hussein
Salih, the head of the local city council, said.

Security forces trying to block the crowd opened fire, killing three
demonstrators and wounding 15, local officials said.

The Iraqi army was eventually called in to restore order.

In Mosul, also in northern Iraq, hundreds of protesters gathered in front
of the provincial council building, demanding jobs and better services,
when guards opened fire, according to a police official.

A police and hospital official said three protesters were killed and 15
people wounded. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they
are not authorised to brief the media.

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

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

Al-Maliki, the prime minister, 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 campaign of violence by fighters 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.

Shia religious leaders, including revered Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani
and Muqtada al-Sadr, had also cautioned their followers about taking part
in the protests on Friday.

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