Protesters took to the streets across Iraq yesterday 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 Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki claimed the demonstrations were being organized 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 about 5,000 demonstrators had gathered, and security forces erected concrete blast walls to block the entrance to Jumhuriyah bridge, which connects the demonstration site to Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.
The 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.
Iraqi lawmaker 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 lawmakers 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,” the protester asked.
Yesterday’s rally, in keeping with similar protests across the region, had largely been organized on social networking Web site 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 former Egyptian 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. “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.”
“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, a 48-year-old unemployed man.
Opening his wallet to show he had only 2,000 Iraqi dinars — less than US$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 criticized 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 would therefore 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.
About 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.