TENS of thousands of Iraqis marched on government buildings and clashed with security forces in cities across Iraq yesterday, in the largest and most violent anti-government protests since the revolutionary wave began in north Africa.
In two northern Iraqi cities, security forces trying to push back crowds opened fire, killing six demonstrators. In the capital of Baghdad, demonstrators knocked down blast walls, threw rocks and scuffled with club-wielding troops.
The protests, billed as a ‘Day of Rage’ were fuelled by anger over corruption, chronic unemployment and shoddy public services.
The centre of Baghdad was virtually locked down, with soldiers searching protesters entering Tahrir Square and closing off the plaza and side streets with razor wire. The heavy security presence reflected the concern of Iraqi officials that the demonstrations could gain traction as they did in Egypt and Tunisia, then spiral out of control.
Iraqi army helicopters buzzed overhead, while Humvees and trucks took up posts throughout the square, where flag-waving demonstrators shouted ‘No to unemployment,’ and ‘No to the liar al-Maliki,’ referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Demonstrators trying to get across a bridge going from the square to the Green Zone clashed with security forces.
The protests stretched from the northern city of Mosul to the southern city of Basra, reflecting the widespread anger many Iraqis feel at the government’s refusal to improve their lives.
A crowd of angry marchers in the northern city of Hawija, 150 miles (240 kilometres) north of Baghdad, tried to break into the city’s municipal building, said the head of the local city council, Ali Hussein Salih.
Security forces trying to block the crowd opened fire, killing three demonstrators and wounding 15, local officials said. The Iraqi Army was eventually called in to restore order.
In Mosul, also in northern Iraq, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the provincial council building, demanding jobs and better services, when guards opened fire, according to a police official. A police and hospital official said three protesters were killed and 15 people wounded. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to brief the media.
In the south, about 4,000 people demonstrated in front of the office of Governor. Sheltagh Aboud al-Mayahi in the port city of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, 340 miles (550 kilometres) southeast of Baghdad.
Around 1,000 demonstrators also clashed with police in the western city of Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometres) west of Baghdad, witnesses said. And in the southern city of Karbala, about 1,000 protesters rallied for better services.
On Thursday, Iraqi puppet Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki urged Iraqis not to participate in the massive Baghdad demonstrations planned for Friday, describing their organisers as ‘insurgents and loyalists of Saddam Hussein’.
In anticipation of yesterday’s protests, Iraqi security forces imposed curfews in Samarra District since the morning until further notice, a source from Salahuddin province said.
Intensified security measures were also taken in Dour District.
In Nineveh, security forces imposed a curfew and a ban on motorcycles since midnight Thursday until further notice.
These measures were taken to prevent any security violations during demonstrations.
Security forces in Anbar also imposed massive measures in the province while in Sulaimaniah, security and military forces are massed in Al Saray Square.