BAGHDAD — Thousands marched on government buildings and clashed with security forces Friday in cities across Iraq in an outpouring of anger that left 11 people dead — the largest and most violent anti-government protests in the country since political unrest began spreading in the Arab world weeks ago.
RELATED:Palestinians divided over Arab unrest’s impact on peacePeres: Middle East is embarking on ‘a different destiny’
In northern Iraqi cities, security forces trying to push back crowds opened fire, killing nine demonstrators, In the western Anbar province two people were shot and killed in a protest. In the capital of Baghdad, demonstrators knocked down blast walls, threw rocks and scuffled with club-wielding troops who chased them down the street.
The protests, billed as a "Day of Rage, were fueled by anger over corruption, chronic unemployment and shoddy public services from the Shiite-dominated government. Shi'ite religious leaders discouraged people from taking part, greatly diminishing the Shi'ite participation and the overall size of the crowd in a country where such religious edicts hold great sway.
In the Sunni enclave of Azamiyah, one of the residents said that people there did not want to attend because they feared being labeled Saddamists. "The government has already convicted anyone who takes part in the demonstrations by accusing them of terrorism," said 41-year-old Ammar al-Azami.
A Shi'ite resident from the New Baghdad neighborhood of the capital,
Khalil Ibrahim, 44, one of about 3,000 protesters in downtown Baghdad,
railed against a government that locks itself in the highly fortified
Green Zone, home to the parliament and the US Embassy, and is viewed by
most of its citizens as more interested in personal gain than public
"We want a good life like human beings, not like animals," Ibrahim said.
JPOST VIDEOS THAT MIGHT INTEREST YOU:
A report released last month by the US reconstruction watchdog agency
noted that Iraqi officials are trying to improve the nation's
electricity grid with hopes of meeting power demands by 2014.
"The lack of perceived improvements in Iraq's water, sewage, and
electricity systems could lead to popular unrest more so than political
or sectarian disagreements," the special inspector general for Iraqi
The center of Baghdad was virtually locked down Friday, with soldiers
searching protesters entering Liberation Square and closing off the
plaza and side streets with razor wire. The heavy security presence
reflected the official concerns that demonstrations here could gain
traction as they did in Egypt and Tunisia, then spiral out of control.
Iraqi army helicopters buzzed overhead, while Humvees and trucks took up
posts throughout the square, where flag-waving demonstrators shouted
"No to unemployment," and "No to the liar al-Maliki," referring to Iraqi
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Demonstrators trying to get across a bridge going from the square to the
Green Zone clashed with security forces. The demonstrators knocked down
some of the concrete blast walls that were put up Thursday night and
threw rocks at troops who beat them back with batons. Six riot police
and 12 demonstrators were wounded in the melee, according to police and
The protests stretched from the northern city of Mosul to the southern
city of Basra, reflecting the widespread anger many Iraqis feel at the
government's seeming inability to improve their lives.
The most deadly clashes came in the Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers)
northwest of Baghdad. 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 five protesters were killed and 15 people
Black smoke could later be seen billowing from the building.
A crowd of angry marchers in the northern city of Hawija, 150 miles (240
kilometers) north of Baghdad, tried to break into the city's municipal
building, said the head of the local city council, Ali Hussein Salih.
Security forces trying to block the crowd opened fire, killing three
demonstrators and wounding 15, local officials said. Protesters set fire
to three police stations and the municipal council building, said Brig.
Gen. Sarhad Qadir. The Iraqi Army was eventually called in to restore
Around 1,000 demonstrators clashed with police in the western city of
Fallujah 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, witnesses said. At
least two people were killed and 14 others injured in riots in Anbar
province, said Sheik Efan Saadoun, a provincial councilor in Anbar
province; he did not know whether the deaths came in Fallujah or Ramadi
where protesters also clashed with authorities.
Police used stun grenades to ward off about 1,000 demonstrators in
Saddam Hussein's former hometown of Tikrit and in the northern city of
Kirkuk hundreds of people rallied against corruption in front of the
In the south, about 4,000 people demonstrated in front of the office of
Gov. Sheltagh Aboud al-Mayahi in the port of Basra, Iraq's
second-largest city, 340 miles (550 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad.
They knocked over one of the concrete barriers and demanded his
resignation, saying he'd done nothing to improve services.
They appeared to get their wish when the commander of Basra military
operations, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Jawad Hawaidi, told the crowd that the
governor had resigned.
And in the southern city of Karbala, about 1,000 protesters rallied for better services.
Police opened fire Friday in the town of Kalar, south of Sulaimaniyah,
when a crowd of demonstrators closed in on the headquarters of one of
the main ruling parties, police and hospital officials said. One
demonstrator was killed and 25 others wounded.
All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
On the eve of the marches, al-Maliki urged people to skip the rally,
which he alleged was organized by Saddamists and al-Qaida — two of his
favorite targets of blame for an array of Iraq's ills. He offered no
evidence to support his claim.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>