Hundreds gather for Iraqi anti-government demo

AP , Friday 4 Mar 2011

Demonstrators gather around Iraq for the second Friday in a row to protest against government

Iraqi riot police officers prevent anti-government protesters from entering the heavily guarded Green Zone during a demonstration in Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Feb. 25, (AP).

Hundreds of people converged on Baghdad's Liberation Square Friday for an anti-government demonstration despite a vehicle ban that forced many to walk for hours to the heart of the capital.

The Baghdad demo was one of many taking place across the country, as Iraqis rallied for the second straight Friday in a row. The demonstrations inspired by revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia have concentrated on demands for improved government services, better pay and an end to corruption in Iraq.

"Our country is lost and for the last eight years the government has failed to offer services for people.

Thousands of youths are without jobs," said Bahjat Talib.

He said he walked from the vast slum in eastern Baghdad called Sadr City through eight checkpoints to get to the square. Talib said he had to tell security forces that he was going to work or they would not let him pass.

He was one of about 500 demonstrators in Liberation Square, surrounded by what appeared to be even more security forces.

The Iraqi government, worried the demonstrations may spiral out of control, have taken strict measures that appear designed to limit the number of demonstrators who come out. Late Thursday, they imposed a vehicle ban in the capital so many of the protesters were forced to walk for miles. Similar vehicle bans were in place in the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, and the southern city of Basra.

Side streets leading up to the square were blocked with security vehicles and helicopters buzzed overhead in Baghdad.

Iraqi security forces around the country clashed last Friday with protesters in the most widespread and violent demonstrations the country has seen since a wave of unrest began spreading across the Middle East. At least 14 people were killed in those rallies.

Before those protests, Iraqi officials sounded a drumbeat of warnings about the demonstrations, saying they were being backed by supporters of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.

The warnings seemed designed to keep people away and paint those who did take part in a bad light.

Demonstrators this Friday took measures to protect themselves, evidencing the distrust many feel toward the security forces. Kamil al-Assadi, from Sadr city, formed a committee checking demonstrators entering the square because they were worried the security forces might plant people in the crowd to create problems.

"We do not trust the Iraqi security forces and formed a committee to check the demonstrators to make sure that no one is carrying a knife or any kind of weapon who aims at creating any problems during the demo." In the southern city of Basra, about 1,000 people converged on the Basra provincial council building. Last week the protests in the city led to the resignation of the governor. This week they were demanding that the provincial council step down and essential services such as water and electricity be improved.

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