Iraq protests over over jobs, services grow

The sudden moves by new government seem designed to head off the kind of popular uprising that unseated long-time rulers in Egypt and Tunisia.

Iraq protests over over jobs, services grow

Unnerved by anti-government protests across the Middle East, Iraqi politicians are buying sugar, diverting money from fighter jets to food, doling out free power and cutting their pay to appease frustrated citizens.

The sudden moves by an elected government installed just two months ago seem designed to head off the kind of popular uprising that unseated long-time rulers in Egypt and Tunisia, analysts said.

Iraqis have long protested against poor government services. But demonstrations against food, power and water shortages have mounted in recent weeks and some protesters are now voicing direct anger at Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's new government.

"Certainly from the steps they (politicians) are taking it would seem that they are nervous," said Gala Riani, Middle East analyst with consultant IHS Global Insight.

"Iraq has experienced relatively big protests in the past related to the poor state of public services without taking such a big move as increasing electricity subsidies."

For the most part, Iraqis have not called for the federal government, formed after nine agonising months of political wrangling, to step down. Instead they demand the resignation of local officials, better food rations and more electricity.

Iraq's national grid supplies just a few hours of power a day and is a constant source of annoyance, especially in summer when temperatures rise above 50 degrees Celsius.

Last week the Electricity Ministry said Iraqis would receive their first 1,000 kilowatt-hours of power for free each month.

Dissatisfaction has been rising as progress remains slow eight years after the U.S.-led invasion.

The national food programme, which offers monthly rations of sugar, rice and other staples to millions, has come under fire due to shortages of some items.

The government has delayed the purchase of F-16 fighter jets to put $900 million of allocated funds into rations and bought 200,000 tonnes of white sugar this month to support the plan.

"Call for locals to step down"

"Maliki's almost panicked response to this new unrest demonstrates the extent to which he feels insecure: a man who is well aware that he obtained his second term as prime minister primarily through guile, stubbornness, and help from Tehran," said Wayne White, a scholar with the Middle East Institute.

Maliki, a Shi'ite, secured a second term as premier in December under a deal that gave shares in the government to minority Sunnis and Kurds.

Protesters frequently cite rampant corruption as they call for local officials and provincial governors to step aside.

To placate frustrated Iraqis, Maliki said this month he would give up half of his $30,000 monthly salary and called for a two-term limit to be put on his office.

A bill to cut lawmakers and ministers' salaries -- and the pensions of former lawmakers and ministers -- by 50 percent has also been sent to cabinet for approval.

Iraq's protests have so far been scattered and analysts say it is unlikely that Iraqis will seek to change the government.

"The Tunisian/Egyptian uprisings revolved around a desire for regime change and free and fair elections," said Ranj Alaaldin, senior analyst at the Next Century Foundation.

"Iraq has a democratically elected coalition government that's representative of the Iraqi society, as opposed to having one ruling individual or family and ruling elite. It is very difficult to coordinate and execute an uprising against a government that is so diverse and heterogeneous."

"Violence"

Two people were killed and 47 wounded during a protest in the northern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniya on Thursday, sources said.

Protests also hit the southern city of Kut, the oil hub of Basra, the northern oil city of Kirkuk and other towns.

"The demonstrations are protected and here I say that the security forces are not allowed to use any force against any demonstrations," Maliki said at a news conference in Baghdad.

"I say to the protesters, this is your right, (but) without violence," he said. "Don't allow troublemakers to incite problems and burn offices because this is sabotage and corruption."

In Sulaimaniya, witnesses said clashes occurred when about 1,000 protesters looking to oust the local government and demanding better basic services threw stones at the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, headed by Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq's semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region.

"This is Tahrir Square. Do you remember Mubarak?" protesters chanted, referring to the Egyptian uprising.

Witnesses said security guards at the party headquarters fired shots in response to the stone-throwing. A police source and a medical source said two people died and 47 others were wounded. It was not clear how the deaths and injuries occurred.

In Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, fire damaged the offices of a KDP rival, the Goran political party, according to a party official.

"Demands"

In the southern city of Kut, a second day of unrest brought some 700 people to the local government building, where clashes on Wednesday killed three people and wounded 59 during one of the largest and most violent of the recent protests.

Protesters erected tents and said they would camp out.

"We will maintain our sit-in in this square until our demands are met," said Mohammed Halloul, 50.

Calling for the resignation of the provincial governor, demonstrators brought mattresses, blankets, water and other supplies to spend the night. A donkey with "the governor" spray-painted on its side appeared in the square.

In Basra, a hub for foreign oil companies working to increase production from Iraq's rich oil fields, about 250 residents held a peaceful rally demanding jobs.

In Kirkuk, about 100 vendors protested a government decision to remove them from a bridge where they sold their wares.

In the southern town of Nassir, a small group of protesters set fires in a government building, a witness said.

Agencies

Last Mod: 18 Şubat 2011, 14:17
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