Iraqis protest, call for jobs and services

AFP , Friday 11 Mar 2011

Iraqis take to the streets demanding jobs in Baghdad and Fallujah

Hundreds of Iraqi protesters demanded jobs and better basic services on Friday, in the latest challenge to the government as a wave of popular uprisings sweeps across the Arab world.

Some 500 protesters turned up in Baghdad's Tahrir Square and about as many in the city of Fallujah west of the capital.

Iraq's government has been shaken by a string of rallies across the country since the beginning of February, inspired by uprisings that forced out the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt.

"'No' to unemployment 'Yes' to jobs," read one of the banners at the Baghdad protest.

Layla Saleh Yaseen, 43, said she wanted more government food rations for the poor and improved basic services like electricity.

"I demand the rights of Iraqis -- more rations and an improvement in services like electricity," she said in Tahrir Square, as military helicopters hovered overhead and police and army surrounded the square.

"I have four children and have to care for a disabled brother by selling simple goods in the streets," she complained.

Abdul Karim al-Habeeb, a 65-year-old father of five in Baghdad, demanded he be reinstated in his job at the transportation ministry, saying he was fired during a campaign against loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party that followed the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted the dictator.

Ahmed Tariq, a 40-year-old university graduate, said he was protesting because he was jobless, and angry over official corruption.

"I demand that we fight corruption and put an end to unemployment," he said, adding that Baghdad officials should be brought to the demonstration to hear the demands of protesters.

As the protest was winding down, a small scuffle broke out between some protesters and police. Protesters threw shoes at police, who responded using batons to push back the demonstrators, but there were no injuries, according to an AFP reporter.

About 500 protesters in Fallujah voiced similar demands, with small protests of less than 200 in the cities of Basra, Najaf, Hilla and near Ramadi.

Hundreds of demonstrators also turned up in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah, where protests have focused on the decades-long dominance in the region by the Kurdistan Democratic Party of regional president Massud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Four demonstrators have been killed in clashes resulting from protests in Sulaimaniyah since demonstrations erupted there on February 17.

Unlike protests in other parts of the Arab world, those in Iraq have not called for regime change, but for a more accountable government and better lives.

Around 500 protesters took to the streets of central Baghdad on Monday to mark one year since Iraq's parliamentary polls, railing against what they said were politicians' broken promises.

In Iraq's biggest rally, thousands gathered across the country on February 25, including 5,000 in Baghdad alone.

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