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Iraqis stage Valentine's Day protest over government corruption, poor services

The Valentine's Day protest came amid reports of a man in northern Iraq killing himself in an apparent copycat self-immolation – the same dramatic act that galvanized popular discontent in Tunisia.

By Staff writer / February 14, 2011

Protesters chant anti-government slogans during a demonstration in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Feb. 14. Hundreds of Iraqis rallied in central Baghdad against corruption and the lack of government services that have plagued this country for years. The banners in Arabic read, "Iraqis oil wealth must go people and not to thieves" and "From us love and from you hatred" and "A lawmaker's salary can meet 500 widows' needs."

Karim Kadim/AP Photo

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Baghdad

Several hundred Iraqi activists marked Valentine's Day with a protest for better services and governance in Baghdad on Monday, the latest in a series of small demonstrations across Iraq inspired by protester-driven upheavals in Egypt and Tunisia.

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While most protesters here aren't aiming to topple the government – one that Iraqis voted for, despite its imperfections – they continue to complain of chronic corruption and lack of services.

"It's time for the government elected by the people to keep its promises and deliver," says Nour al-Qaisi, a journalist and student who held a cloth red rose in her hand as she marched.

Political deadlock meant that Iraqis waited nine months after elections last March for a new government to be formed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Eight new ministers were approved by Iraq's parliament only on Sunday, and key security and intelligence portfolios still await appointments.

"We know many members of parliament and high-ranking officials make up to [$75,000] per month, while many poor Iraqis can hardly put bread in their mouths," says Ms. Qaisi. "I am here to demand the rights of my people."

Protesters gathered across the Tigris River from the Green Zone, carrying signs and chanting for reform. The crowd raised their voices especially loud at the words: "Oh my homeland! They are all thieves!"

Police and soldiers looked on without incident. The Jumhuriya Bridge, which connects the site of the protest at Tahrir Square to a road adjacent to the Green Zone, has been blocked for three days. Activists are planning an "Iraqi Day of Rage" here on Feb. 25.

"Today we have a message for our government: First Tunis, second Cairo, and third Baghdad," says Ahmed Jabbar, a young teacher of fine arts who joined the protests.

Reports of copycat self-immolation

The protest came as Iraqi newspapers on Monday carried reports of a man from the northern city of Mosul killing himself in an apparent copycat self-immolation – the same dramatic act of protest that galvanized popular discontent in northern Africa.

The man, Abdulmunir Mohammed, had "been complaining of the continuous state of unemployment," his father was quoted as saying in the Al-Sabah al-Jadeed newspaper. The father of four, it reported, had set himself alight after saying he was going to light a kerosene heater. A "security source" told the newspaper the man's death was a "suicide."

However, a neighbor raised doubts whether the death was an act of self-immolation, according to a local source speaking to the Monitor. Still, many Iraqis – at the Baghdad rally and elsewhere – believed it was a suicide in protest over the government's inability to provide opportunities for youths.

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