Baghdad (AFP) March 11, 2011
Hundreds of Iraqi protesters demanded jobs and better basic services on Friday, in the latest challenge to Baghdad's government after a wave of popular uprisings swept across the Arab world.
Some 500 protesters turned up in Baghdad's Tahrir Square and about as many in the city of Fallujah west of the capital.
Iraq's government has been shaken by a string of rallies across the country since the beginning of February, inspired by uprisings that forced out the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt.
"'No' to unemployment 'Yes' to jobs," read one of the banners at the Baghdad protest.
Layla Saleh Yaseen, a 43-year-old mother of four, said she was demonstrating in Baghdad for more government food rations for the poor and improved basic services like electricity.
"I demand the rights of Iraqis -- more rations and an improvement in services like electricity," she said, as military helicopters hovered overhead and police and army surrounded the square on the ground.
"I have four children and have to care for a disabled brother by selling simple goods in the streets," she complained.
Abdul Karim al-Habeeb, a 65-year-old father of five protesting in Baghdad, demanded he be reinstated in his job at the transportation ministry, saying he was fired during a campaign against loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party that followed the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted the dictator.
Unlike protests in other parts of the Arab world, the demonstrations in Iraq have not called for regime change, but for a more accountable government and better lives.
Meanwhile, Ahmed Tariq, a 40-year-old with a university degree, said he was protesting in the capital because he was jobless, and angry over official corruption.
"I demand that we fight corruption and put an end to unemployment," he said, adding that Baghdad officials should be brought to the demonstration to hear the demands of protesters.
About 500 protesters in Fallujah voiced similar demands, and a demonstration also was planned later Friday in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah.
Around the same number of protesters took to the streets of central Baghdad on Monday to mark one year since Iraq's parliamentary polls, railing against what they said were politicians' broken promises.
In Iraq's biggest rally, thousands gathered across the country on February 25, including 5,000 in Baghdad alone.
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