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.
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The self-immolation was an "alarm" for the government, says the young teacher Mr. Jabbar. "They have to wake up and take care of everything and repair all their policies.... This is the first time we [Iraqis] feel something for change. Tomorrow and the next day there will be more and more."Skip to next paragraph
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'Winds of change' keep blowing
The Iranian government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tried to prevent it with a series of preemptive arrests and threatening statements – despite praising and encouraging unrest in Egypt and Tunisia as part of an Islamic "awakening" around the world – and there were reports of clashes by mid-afternoon in Tehran.
But Iraq has seen an increasing number of small protests, and several steps by the government in reply. As the Egyptian demonstrations reached their peak in violence and then numbers in the past couple weeks, Mr. Maliki promised to cut his $360,000 annual salary in half, saying that “high salaries may create unrest in society and lead to the creation of two classes, the rich and the disadvantaged.”
A new commission has been set up to examine the salaries of top officials. Maliki also ordered that all Iraqis would receive cash handouts of almost $13 each.
Iraqis resent lack of services
Iraq already experienced it own regime change at the hands of the US military in 2003. The subsequent violence and insurgency tore at what remained of Iraq's threadbare social fabric after decades of dictatorial rule by Saddam Hussein.
Resignation by Iraqis over poor services is such that in recent days, during a spate of cold weather, Iraqis joked that if anyone burned themselves in protest, their fellow Iraqis would huddle around them to keep warm, because they had no electricity for heat at home.
"It's not just Baghdad, but everywhere in Iraq, and everyday there are strikes. It's a very positive spirit," says Hanaa Edwar, the head of the Iraqi Al-Amal Association, which deals with human rights issues.
"We are demonstrating on the day of love, to ensure solidarity with young people for change," said Ms. Edwar, as she marched with a red cloth flower on the lapel of her jacket.
"It is a great inspiration to us, what happened in Tunisia and Egypt – we need to really correct the process in Iraq," adds Edwar. The government is "afraid. You can see it from the positions they are taking."
Sahar Issa contributed reporting in Baghdad.