BAGHDAD – Hundreds of Iraqis took part in scattered demonstrations on Sunday, calling for an improvement in basic services and the resignation of local government officials as unrest sweeps much of the Arab world.
In Baghdad, around 250 people gathered in the impoverished district of Bab al-Sham to protest against a lack of services. “It is a tragedy. Even during the Middle Ages, people were not living in this situation,” said engineer Furat al-Janabi.
Some carried a coffin with the word “services” written across it, while others called for the resignation of all members of the local council in their area.
Almost eight years after the U.S.-led invasion, Iraq’s infrastructure remains severely damaged. The country suffers a chronic water shortage, electricity supply is intermittent and sewage collects in the streets.
While public frustration is a challenge to the government as Iraq emerges from the sectarian war after the invasion, the country has already been freed from the autocratic rule that protesters in other countries such as Egypt are seeking to end.
In the oil city of Basra, 420 km south of Baghdad, around 100 protesters demanded the resignation of the governor and members of the city council, saying they were corrupt.
The demonstrators carried yellow cards symbolising the warning card a referee carries in a soccer match.
“I and my children depend totally on food rations, without it we will die. I find work for one day, and then nothing for 10 days after that,” said 43-year-old Nuri Ghadhban, a day labourer in the construction industry and father of six.
“I have been looking for kerosene for a month and I cannot find it. We have had enough. What do they want? For us to burn ourselves until they think about us?”
Protests in Tunisia which forced out President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali last month began after a young unemployed man set himself on fire in protest at his treatment by the authorities. Since then, there has been a series of self-immolations around the Arab world.
Other demonstrations were staged in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi and in a town near the southern city of Diwaniya. A smaller protest took place in the northern city of Mosul.
The protests were peaceful and came after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, reappointed to a second term in December, announced that he planned to take only half his $30,000 monthly salary and would also push for a two-term limit on his office.
Iraqi police opened fire last Thursday to disperse hundreds of residents protesting about shortages of power, water and other services near the city of Diwaniya, wounding three.
Similar protests, directed at power shortages, were held last June in Basra, where police opened fire. Two protesters died.