BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Thousands of Iraqis inspired by uprisings around the Arab world protested on Friday against corruption and poor basic services in nationwide rallies where at least 10 people died in clashes with security forces.
Scores of others were hurt in skirmishes during Iraq’s “Day of Rage” when demonstrators tried to storm government buildings and security personnel fired shots to try to disperse them.
There were no reports of insurgent attacks against the protests despite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s warning that al Qaeda militants and others might try to disrupt the rallies.
Maliki vowed not to ignore the protesters’ demands.
“I would like to assure all our people that nothing which they have protested against due to their discontent will go in vain,” he said in a statement. “I will follow up personally the implementation of all issues under my authority as prime minister.”
The most violent clashes between protesters and security forcesoccurred in the restive areas of Hawija and Mosul in the north and the southern oil hub of Basra.
Eight years after the U.S.-led invasion which ousted Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, development remains slow and Iraqis complain of shortages of food rations, water, power and jobs.
The Arab world has erupted in protests aimed at ousting long-standing rulers and holding free elections but Iraqis have focused more on gripes over essential needs and corruption.
“We are here for change, to improve the situation of the country. The education system is bad. The health system is also bad. Services are going from bad to worse,” said 27-year-old Lina Ali, part of a protest youth group on Facebook.
“There is no drinkable water, no electricity. Unemployment is growing, which can push the youth toward terrorist activities,” she said at Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.
Frustration has mounted in the war-torn state, which has vast oil reserves and the potential to be a major producer. “Where’s my share in the oil profits?” one banner read.
“People are hungry. We ask the government to find job opportunities for the young,” said 52-year-old Um Safa, who walked from Baghdad’s northeastern Sadr City slum to Tahrir Square to take part in the protests.
In Mosul, guards and security forces opened fire when protesters tried to storm the local government building, a Reuters witness said.
Three people were killed and 15 wounded in the clashes. Demonstrators set fire to the building and a percussion bomb exploded amongst the crowd, a police source said.
Protesters also set fire to a local council building in Hawija, a restive area near the oil city of Kirkuk. Two people were killed and 22 injured in scuffles, a police source said.
In Kalar, a town south of Sulaimaniya in northern Iraq, one person was killed and at least 10 wounded when security forces opened fire on protesters, security and medical sources said, while another 15 people were injured in separate skirmishes.
In the northern town of Chamchamal, one person was killed and five wounded in protest clashes, a health official said.
A curfew was imposed in Basra until 6 am (0300 GMT) on Saturday after clashes between security forcesand protesters that killed one person and wounded dozens protesters and security officers, Basra Governor Shaltagh Abboud said he would resign in response to protesters’ demands.
Two people were killed and 22 others were wounded in Samarra and Tikrit and at least 43 protesters and security officers were hurt in Kirkuk, Falluja, Sulaiman Pek, Nassiriya and Khaldiya.
In Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, where the crowd swelled to thousands, minor clashes broke out as protesters stormed past concrete blast walls on the nearby Jumhuriya bridge leading to the fortified Green Zone of government buildings and embassies.
Fifteen people were hurt as protesters threw rocks and security forces hit them with sticks. Police and soldiers used sound bombs and fired shots into the air to scatter protesters. A vehicle curfew was in effect in the capital.
(Additional reporting by Muhanad Mohammed and Suadad al-Salhy in Baghdad, Sabah al-Bazee in Samarra, Aref Mohammed in Basra, Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk, Khaled Farhan in Najaf, Jamal al-Badrani in Mosul, Fadhel al-Badrani in Falluja and Namo Abdulla in Sulaimaniya; Writing by Serena Chaudhry; Editing by Jon Hemming)