KIRKUK, Iraq — Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Iraqi cities on Tuesday, inspired by popular protests around the Arab world, to demand job-creation programmes and better electricity supplies.
The biggest turnout was in Fallujah where about 800 protesters marched through the city of western Iraq that a bastion of the insurgency after the US-led invasion of 2003.
Groups of around 200 demonstrated in the ethnically-mixed city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq and the poor Shiite district of Sadr City in northeast Baghdad.
“We are calling today for better basic services and more jobs,” said Sattar Omar, a jobless 27-year-old in Fallujah. “We have been suffering for a very long time, and it is time for us to demand our rights.”
In the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen demonstrators turned out in traditional costumes to also call for better basic services, lower fuel prices and more jobs.
“There is no life without electricity,” “Give us food,” and “Stop corruption,” their banners read.
“We demand that our civil freedoms are guaranteed, that corrupt officials are punished, and that we get better basic services and cheaper fuel,” said Shaker Hassan, a demonstrator at the protest organised by secular groups.
Men, women and Shiite clerics turned out in Sadr City. “We do not beg, we demand our rights,” “No to corruption, Yes to basic services,” read their banners.
Protests over irregular deliveries of food rations for the poor and lack of basic services have sparked increased protests around Iraq since uprisings which have toppled the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt over the past month.
A jobless 30-year-old man in northern Iraq set himself on fire and died on Sunday, the latest in a rash of copycat suicides across the Arab world since a fruit vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire last December.
Facebook groups which have organised smaller protests, including a Valentine’s Day demonstration in Baghdad, are calling for a large turnout at a February 25 rally in the Iraqi capital.
Unlike the pro-democracy protests elsewhere in the Arab world, Iraqi demonstrators demand improvements to living standards eight years after the invasion which overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein.
Angry Iraqis staged violent demonstrations last summer in several southern cities over power rationing as temperatures reached 54 degrees Celsius (130 Fahrenheit).
Homes and businesses across Iraq suffer daily power cuts and rely on private generators to fill the gap, as the war-ravaged country struggles to boost capacity.
On Monday, the government announced that it was postponing a planned purchase of 18 F-16 fighter planes from the United States and diverting the funds to feed the poor.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said after the Valentine’s Day demonstration on Monday that he was not opposed to protests.
“Protesting is a right guaranteed by the constitution, and I ordered the security forces to protect” the demonstrators, the premier said in a meeting with local officials.