`Seven killed` in Iraqi `Day of Rage`

Iraqi PM said the rallies were being organised by "Saddamists", insurgents.

Last Updated: Feb 25, 2011, 18:48 PM IST

Baghdad: Protesters took to the streets across Iraq on Friday to mark a "Day of Rage", with thousands flooding Baghdad`s Tahrir Square as seven protesters died in clashes with police in two northern cities.

Protesters in the capital were forced to walk to the rally site as security forces imposed a vehicle ban, a day after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki claimed the demonstrations were being organised by al Qaeda insurgents and loyalists of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

Though most of the protests were largely peaceful, clashes between security forces and demonstrators at rallies in the northern city of Mosul and the town of Hawija left seven dead and dozens wounded, while separate rallies in north and west Iraq left a total of eight others injured.

In the capital, troops and police were deployed in force at Tahrir Square, where around 5,000 demonstrators had gathered, and security forces erected concrete blast walls to block entrance to Jumhuriyah bridge, which connects the demonstration site to Baghdad`s heavily-fortified Green Zone.

Protesters nevertheless managed to overturn two of the walls, with some of them attempting to cross the bridge. Several lines of anti-riot police quickly blocked it off, however.

An Iraqi MP Sabah al-Saadi attempted to meet with a group of the demonstrators but was met with shouts and jeers upon his arrival, with one protesters asking, "Why are MPs taking millions of dinars (thousands of dollars) in salary?"

"You have to cut your salary -- we have nothing! Why are you taking so much money when we have no money?"

Friday`s rally, in keeping with similar protests across the region, has largely been organised on social networking website Facebook by groups such as "Iraqi Revolution of Rage" and "Change, Liberty and a Real Democracy."

Most of the protesters at the square -- which shares the name of the central Cairo site where Egyptians rallied to overthrow president Hosni Mubarak -- were young men, with some holding placards that read, "No silence, we must speak".

"We don`t want to change the government, because we elected them, but we want them to get to work!" said Darghan Adnan, a 24-year-old student at the capital`s Tahrir Square.

"We want them to enforce justice, we want them to fix the roads, we want them to fix the electricity, we want them to fix the water."

More protesters were streaming into the area on the banks of the Tigris river, forced to walk after authorities belatedly imposed a vehicle ban on Baghdad and several other Iraqi cities.

"I came by foot from Sadr City (east Baghdad) -- it took me two hours, but I decided to come because I want the government to change the situation," said Shashef Shenshun, 48 years old and unemployed.

Opening his wallet to show he had only 2,000 Iraqi dinars -- less than USD 2 -- he said: "Do you think I can live with this money? I am jobless. I want work, I want for my children to go to school."

The vehicle ban was criticised by press watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which noted that the rules meant television channels would not be able to station their satellite trucks near the protests and thus not be able to carry live broadcasts of the demonstrations.

Similar curfews were also put in place in the central cities of Samarra, Tikrit and Baquba, and the western city of Ramadi.

Around 3,000 demonstrators gathered in the port city of Basra, followed by the announcement that the provincial governor had resigned, while hundreds chanted, "Liar, liar, Maliki!" in separate rallies in the southern cities of Nasiriyah, Kut and Karbala.

The protesters in Nasiriyah also shouted, "What happened to the promises, what happened to the services, what happened to the jobs?" while demonstrators in Kut chanted, "Saddam, Saddam, Nuri al-Maliki!"

The rallies have united a disparate group of causes, from those railing against poor public services to others demanding broader political reforms, though demonstrators on Tahrir Square remained largely segregated into their own groups on Friday morning.

The demonstrations come a day after Maliki urged protesters not to participate, citing security concerns and claiming the protest`s organisers were Saddam loyalists and al Qaeda insurgents.

Friday`s protests, which have been scheduled for several weeks, have been billed by some as Iraq`s own "Day of Rage," referring to similar ones in Egypt that eventually led to Mubarak`s resignation.

Demonstrations in Iraq, though, have been largely railing against poor public services and high levels of corruption and unemployment.

Along with being rated the fourth-most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International, Iraq also suffers from poor electricity and water provision. Also, unemployment remains high because the country`s main income generator, oil production, is not labour intensive.

In a bid to head off the protests, Iraq has slashed politicians` pay, increased funds dedicated to food for the needy and delayed a planned law that would raise import tariffs and, thus, prices of goods in markets.

Bureau Report