Iraq Protests: Violence Clashes Between Demonstrators and Security Forces
The unrest sweeping across the Mideast and the Arab world deepened its grip on Iraq today as tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in 10 cities across the nation and security forces turned violent in attempts to rein in the demonstrations. Protesters burned buildings, stormed government establishments and tore down concrete walls. Security forces fired into crowds, killing at least four and wounding dozens.
The demonstrations spread from north to south and east to west, reaching the northern town of Masul, where two protesters were killed, and stretching to Basra in the south, neither area a stranger to violence. In the western town of Ramadi, the day after a suicide bomber killed 11 people, another eight were wounded and one was killed in clashes between security forces and 250 demonstrators. Just north of Baghdad in Saladhi Province, five people were wounded by gunfire.
The Iraqi government went to the great lengths to limit the demonstrations in Baghdad, issuing a traffic ban that kept many of the 6 million residents from reaching the capital. Yet, a crowd of thousands still managed to tear down a concrete wall securing a bridge leading to Baghdad’s secure “green zone”. Security forces responded by beating several of the offenders, and successfully blocked entry onto the bridge while protesters threw rocks at them.
There was some victory on the side of the demonstrators in Basra, where a gathering of 10,000 calling for the resignation of the Provincial Governor saw their demands met when he resigned in front of them. Iraqi television later confirmed that his resignation came at the request of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The demonstrations in Iraq differ from others in the region in that the people in the streets are not seeking regime change. The Iraqis are marching for better government services, an end to rampant corruption and instability. The protests in Iraq were a response to a call for a “Day of Rage” and were modeled on similar movements in Tunisia and Egypt, which toppled their respective autocratic rulers last month.
In a televised speech on Wednesday night, Maliki urged Iraqis not to assemble. He took pains to paint the architects of the demonstrations as loyalists to Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. “They are attempting to crack down on everything you have achieved, all the democratic gains, the free elections, the peaceful exchanges of power and freedom.” But he also pledged, falsely, that the government would not bar them from gathering.
Other Shiite leaders joined his pleas. Populist and influential cleric Moktada al-Sadr returned from Iran and begged his nation to stay home today, asking them to “thwart the enemy plans by not participating in the protests tomorrow… it will give rise to the voice of those who destroyed Iraq.”
Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani echoed Sadr and Maliki’s urgings.
But the Sunni minority embraced the protest plans. The Sunni political block Iraqiya called the complaints of the protesters “just”.
Prior to the government crackdown today, the US was hopeful that Iraq would avoid the violence that has plagued other Mideast nations. A spokesperson from the US Embassy said that officials had ordered security forces not to use force adding the optimistic view, “We hope that demonstrations will be peaceful.”
Iraq’s “Day of Rage” was mirrored across the region as Libya’s demonstraters continued to clash with Qaddidi’s government forces, Bahrain saw its largest gathering in Pearl Square yet, and Egypt celebrated the one month anniversary of Mubarak’s resignation in Tahrir Square.
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