Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets on Friday to protest against corruption and a lack of basic services in an organised nationwide "Day of Rage" inspired by uprisings around the Arab world.
At least ten people were killed and more than 150 wounded in clashes between protesters and security forces in several towns when demonstrators tried to storm government buildings and security personnel fired shots in the air to try to disperse them.
The Arab world has erupted in protests aimed at ousting long-standing rulers, holding free elections and improving basic services, but Iraqi rallies have focused more on gripes over essential needs and corruption.
The most violent clashes between protesters and security forces occurred in the restive areas of Hawija and Mosul in the north and the southern oil hub of Basra.
In Baghdad's Tahrir Square, the crowd swelled to thousands. Military vehicles and security forces lined the streets around the square as demonstrators waved Iraqi flags and called for reforms. A vehicle curfew was in effect in the capital.
Some protesters pushed between concrete blast walls on the nearby Jumhuriya bridge leading to Baghdad's fortified Green Zone of government buildings and embassies, but the demonstration remained peaceful.
A security official at the square said security forces had been instructed to refrain from clashing with protesters.
"We are here for change to improve the situation of the country. The education system is bad. The health system is also bad. Services are going from bad to worse," said 27-year-old Lina Ali, part of a protest youth group on Facebook.
"There is no drinkable water, no electricity. Unemployment is growing, which can push the youth towards terrorist activities," she said at Baghdad's Tahrir Square.
Eight years after the U.S.-led invasion, development in Iraq remains slow and there are shortages of food, water, electricity and jobs.
Frustration has been mounting in the war-torn state, which has vast oil reserves and the potential to be a major producer. 'Where's my share in the oil profits?' one banner read.
"People are hungry. We ask the government to find job opportunities for the young," said 52-year-old Um Safa, who walked from Baghdad's northeastern Sadr City slum to Tahrir Square to take part in the protests.
"Our demonstration is peaceful," Ali said as she stood in Tahrir Square carrying a bunch of flowers. "We want the government to hear our voices, the government that we chose. They should provide services for the people. Other countries are pushing their way for change, so why should we stay silent?"
In the southern oil hub of Basra, Governor Shaltagh Abboud said he would resign in response to protesters' demands, according to an Iraqi cabinet source.
Protests have been mounting in cities and towns around Iraq in recent weeks. Friday's protests were organised mainly through social networking site Facebook, echoing mass rallies mobilised by youth through social media across the region.
In Kalar, a town south of Sulaimaniya in northern Iraq, one person was killed and at least 10 wounded when security forces opened fire on protesters, security and medical sources said, while another 15 people were injured in separate skirmishes.
In the northern town of Chamchamal, one person was killed and five wounded in protest clashes, a health official said.
A curfew was imposed in Basra until 6 am (0300 GMT) on Saturday after clashes between security forces and protesters that killed one person and wounded dozens protesters and security officers, Basra Governor Shaltagh Abboud said he would resign in response to protesters' demands.
Two people were killed and 22 others were wounded in Samarra and Tikrit and at least 43 protesters and security officers were hurt in Kirkuk, Falluja, Sulaiman Pek, Nassiriya and Khaldiya.
In Baghdad's Tahrir Square, where the crowd swelled to thousands, minor clashes broke out as protesters stormed past concrete blast walls on the nearby Jumhuriya bridge leading to the fortified Green Zone of government buildings and embassies.
Fifteen people were hurt as protesters threw rocks and security forces hit them with sticks. Police and soldiers used sound bombs and fired shots into the air to scatter protesters. A vehicle curfew was in effect in the capital.
ReutersLast Mod: 26 Şubat 2011, 11:31