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Friday 9 September 2011

BAGHDAD: Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Iraq’s capital and other cities on Friday, demanding that the government steps up reforms and provides more electricity and jobs.

Inspired by the Arab Spring, Iraqis have been demonstrating on Fridays for months but protests had petered out in recent weeks.

The rallies came days after a prominent anti-American Shiite cleric, Moqtada Al-Sadr, called on the government to create 50,000 jobs, give Iraqis a share of the nation’s oil wealth and make more reforms or face protests.

Sadr, whose political movement is a key faction in Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s fragile coalition government, earlier this year gave the government six months to improve services. The deadline expired at the end of August.

More than eight years after the US-led invasion, Iraqis still suffer from a lack of basic services and the government has been slow to rebuild the country’s battered infrastructure.

“It is so shameful. Our country is a wealthy oil-rich country and its people are poverty-stricken,” said Tareq Khalil, a protester in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.

“We’re only demanding an improvement in basic services and an improvement in people’s living standards.”

Military vehicles and soldiers, as well as police, lined the streets. All roads leading to the square were closed to vehicles.

Demonstrations also took place in Diwaniya, Hilla, Najaf and the oil port city of Basra in the south, as well as Baquba in the north.

Dozens protested against the lack of services in Falluja and Ramadi, the two main cities of vast Anbar province in the west. Some demonstrators also called for US troops to leave Iraq and for the resignation of the local provincial council.

The United States is expected to fully withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year although Iraq’s government is currently debating whether to keep some US trainers.

Maliki’s government has taken a series of steps to ease public anger, boosting the national food ration program and pledging free power. But Iraqis say there has been little real improvement since February when the premier gave his ministers a 100-day ultimatum to meet the demands or face the sack.

“So far we haven’t noticed any change in government policy. Services are still missing, there are no reforms and corruption is widespread,” said 21-year-old university student Ahmed Rafaa, who was protesting in Baghdad.

“I will keep attending every Friday to protest against the government’s performance. I will not stop, even if I am alone, until my demands to be able to live a prosperous life are met.”

A separate small demonstration also took place in Baghdad to protest the killing of Hadi Al-Mehdi, a popular radio commentator critical of the government who was killed at his house in Baghdad’s central Karrada district on Thursday.

Source: Arab News.
Link: http://www.arabnews.com/node/390410.

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