Iraqi officials bend to protesters' demands
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he would personally oversee food rationing for the poor, while Baghdad's provincial chief promised to fire corrupt officials. A major rally is planned for Friday.
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In Baghdad, the protests have been relatively small and scattered, posing little apparent threat to the Iraqi government, which is based almost exclusively in the
heavily-guarded green zone. Their grievances fall into two main categories: anger over basic living conditions and protests against increasing restrictions on personal freedom.
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So far, the Baghdad protests have been largely peaceful, but an incident early Monday morning added to recent incidents of violence around the country.
In south-central Iraq last week, Iraqi security forces shot dead at least one protester in the city of Kut after a crowd of demonstrators stormed the provincial council building, climbing in the second-floor windows and setting fire to offices. They were demanding the removal of the provincial governor who has been widely accused of corruption but was, until now, impossible to fire.
Home to much of Iraq’s oil wealth, the south is the poorest region in the country.
The northern Kurdish region, billed as the most stable part of Iraq, has suffered the most violence – and growing protests. At least three demonstrators have been killed by Kurdish security forces since the protests – largely against corruption and nepotism by Kurdistan’s traditional leaders– began.
On Sunday, an independent Kurdish television station that had broadcast the protests was set on fire. Kurdistan’s two major parties fought against each other for years before uniting to fight Saddam Hussein’s forces and now jointly rule the north. Several thousand demonstrators gathered in Suleiymania on Tuesday in one of the largest protests so far in Iraq.
Baghdad protesters report unprovoked attack
In the Iraqi capital, security forces have not publicly interfered in the protests, which have been confined largely to public squares far from the seat of power.
In an incident after midnight on Monday however, a group of demonstrators who had set up a tent for a sit-in in Tahrir Square said they were attacked by a large group of clean-shaven young men in street clothes wielding knives as Iraqi soldiers stood by.
“Everything happened in seconds,” says Kamal Jabar, an organizer of the group that had gathered together a cross-section of Iraqis, including religious officials, for a peaceful demonstration on Saturday. Mr. Jabar, his face bruised, says the gang arrived in civilian cars and started beating and stabbing people while Iraqi Humvees were parked across the street.
The organizers said the unprovoked attack took place after a senior Iraqi Army commander ordered them to leave.
Ali, a protester who wanted only his first name used, lay on the floor on Monday with what was clearly a stab wound in his thigh. His clothing still bloody, he said he had come from the southern town of Nassariyah to look for work when he heard about the protest and was sleeping in the tent when he was attacked.
The Baghdad operations command, responsible for security in the capital, denied that anyone had been attacked in Tahrir square and said the report had been invented by hostile news media.
“I supported this democracy I’m happy Saddam is gone but this is not democracy,” says Jabar, one of the organizers. “The way they acted yesterday, I thought Saddam was still alive.”
[Editor's note: the original version of this story incorrectly identified the location in which the photo was taken]