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Iraq swirls with rumors of Egypt-like protests to come

With their televisions set to 24-hour coverage of the turmoil in Egypt, Iraqis have mounted a number of modest protests in recent days against power, water, and food shortages.

By Staff writer / February 6, 2011

A pro-government Iranian demonstrator holds an anti-Mubarak placard as another one holds a poster of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during a gathering in support of Egyptians protests, after their Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran, Friday.

Vahid Salemi/AP

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Baghdad, Iraq

The rumors of Iraq’s first case of self-immolation to protest poor services and corrupt government proved not to be true on Sunday.

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But the growing discontent in Iraq – inspired by people power protests in Tunisia and Egypt that were both galvanized by protesters setting themselves alight – is such that an Iraqi policeman posted in Baghdad’s downtown Firdous Square on Sunday knew the question he was being asked, even before it was finished.

“There is news that someone…” an Iraqi journalist asked.

“… tried to burn himself?” interrupted the policeman, who had been on the square since dawn. “It’s a lie.”

With their televisions set to 24-hour coverage of the turmoil in Egypt, Iraqis have mounted a number of modest protests in recent days against power, water, and food shortages. On Thursday, police opened fire on demonstrators in the southern city of Diwaniya, wounding three.

A grinding refrain from Iraqis for years has been that their government fails them, a complaint that is echoing louder now as popular anger rises against Arab regimes across the Middle East.

“It will happen in Iraq,” says Mohammad Ali, a trained economist and former policeman, now unemployed for nearly five years, speaking in central Baghdad. “The government is doing nothing for us.”

Clerics warn leaders to heed lessons of Egypt

Senior clerics warned the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki to heed the lessons of a region in turmoil.

“A lot has changed in Iraq…but there is no social justice,” said Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai, during his Friday sermon in the Shiite religious center of Karbala. The representative of Iraq’s most influential theologian, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said politicians should put public issues ahead of personal ones.

“There are many outstanding issues – we are not sure what happened in Arab countries will not happen in Iraq, even though it is a democracy,” he said, according to a translation by Agence France-Presse.

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