Demonstrations spread across Iraq



The social and political protest movements sweeping the Arab countries from Tunisia and Egypt to Yemen, Sudan, Algeria and Jordan, have reached Iraq.

The last two weeks have seen several spontaneous demonstrations across the country, in the cities of Kut, Diwaniya and Basra, in the south, Anbar in the west, and the districts of al-Husseiniya and al-Kraiat, north of Baghdad.

The protesters’ grievances have been many and varied: the quality and level of basic services, government restrictions on civil liberties and freedom of expression, violations against civil servants, and the rampant financial and administrative corruption within state institutions.

In Basra, around one hundred protesters demanded the resignation of the governor and members of the local council, accusing them of corruption. They carried yellow cards, like those used by referees at football matches.In Baghdad, hundreds of people gathered in Bab al-Sham neighbourhood to demand better basic services and the resignation of local government officials. The protesters carried a coffin inscribed with the word "services".

And in the city’s al-Mutanabi Street, famous for its bookshops, hundreds of intellectuals, writers, journalists, activists and young people described as the facebook generation took part in sit-ins, condemning the restrictions imposed on their freedom, such as the decision taken by Baghdad Provincial Council to close nightclubs and bars.

Protesters carried banners with slogans saying: "Be aware and learn from the fate of Arab dictators and the revolutions of their people" and "Baghdad will not be another Kandahar."The protests in al-Mutanabi Street began last month, when an armed group wearing military clothes raided the premises of the Writers’ Union on 17 January, under the pretext that its social club was selling prohibited beverages.

At a press conference at Baghdad provincial council, Prime Minister Maliki said he expects further demonstrations "similar to those witnessed by some Arab countries." He also expects other demonstrations, "backed by some parties", although he did not name which ones.

But the demonstrators say their protests are fueled by the people themselves and there are no political parties behind them.Emad al-Khafaji is chairman of the committee for public freedoms. "There is a giant demon called "facebook" mobilizing people to demonstrate", he said. "It is a demon which is invisible to many politicians and decision makers."

Khafaji believes that the way the authorities responded positively and quickly is proof that the demonstrations in Iraq are an extension of those witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt.Prime Minister Maliki announced he was reducing his salary by a half, the speaker of parliament said the salaries of senior state officials would be re-examined, and the government promised to allocate 15,000 dinars (US$13) for every citizen to compensate for the shortfall in rations.

Observers believe that these measures are an official recognition of the huge differences in salaries between senior government officials and ordinary people and are an attempt to absorb the wrath of the Iraqi people, who have suffered from deteriorating living conditions and poor services.

Eight years after the US invasion of Iraq, the electricity supply in most areas of the country still does not exceed two hours a day, and the country still suffers from poor infrastructure, a weak transport network, and an acute crisis of drinking water and sanitation.

Observers do not rule out the possibility of more demonstrations in other parts of the country, especially after Imams denounced government corruption in their Friday sermons, and with the news of the demonstrations widely covered in most of the Arab media.

The citizens of al-Majar al-Kabeer district of Misan province in southern Iraq sent a letter to Prime Minister Maliki, in which they threatened to organize demonstrations if the government did not act against the local construction company, which has spent the last two and half years building a sewerage project."Enough is enough", they wrote "Do something about the company, or we will take to the streets. Be aware of the people’s anger."

Muhamad Saleh al-Nidawi, a professor of education, who took part in a demonstration in Husseiniya neighbourhood in northern Baghdad, said that the people of his neighborhood are used to sending petitions and writing statements and complaints."We have realised that peaceful demonstrations and movements on the ground are the most effective means of achieving our demands."

Hayder Najm, for
Niqash

No comments: