Thursday, February 24, 2011

Iraq expects wave of demos Friday

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Erbil, Feb. 24 (AKnews) - A wave of public demonstrations is expected to sweep across Iraq Friday with protestors calling for better living conditions, employment opportunities and social justice.Protesters in Baghdad

The Iraqi people have been disgruntled with the government for not being able to assure basic services like electricity, water and promised food subsidies, in addition to allegations of administrative corruption and social injustice.

Campaigners have called for the demonstrations on social network websites and have set February 25 for a day of protests.

Over the past two weeks there have already been public protests in some 14 Iraqi provinces but February 25 has been marked as a nationwide day of protests.

Iraqi officials have warned that insurgents my exploit the occasion to attack the rallies of demonstrators.

The Iraqi Prime Minister said earlier this week that the demonstrations are politicized by "evil-intentioned people" and that through the demonstrations militants can regain their sway over the country.

Similarly, Baghdad Operations Command (BOC) announced on Wednesday that they had intelligence information that suicide bombers are preparing to target the demonstrators.

BOC also announced a ban on live coverage of the event as part of a bid to keep vehicles off the streets of the Tahrir Square area of Baghdad where the biggest demonstration so far is expected to be staged.

However, the move is seen by some as an excuse to head off the demonstrations because the security forces were able to provide security for more than 2 million pilgrims during the Shia ceremonies in southern Iraq in recent months.

The demonstrations, inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, point an accusatory finger at the government and the dominant ruling bloc for the poor level of services provided to the public.

In some parts of Iraq, electricity is available only for 6 hours a day while government corruption, unemployment and social injustice remain widespread concerns.

On Feb. 21, the Iraqi parliament speaker said some US$40 billion was "missing" from a post-Gulf War fund that Iraq maintains to protect from foreign claims.

He said they did not know where the money had gone.

Iraqi PM's annual income is equivalent to that of the President of that United States, if not more, and the Iraq MPs receive some IQD32 million (about US$25,000) a month in a country where the average salary is between US$500 and $600.

Iraqi demonstrators have called for a cut in the salaries of the top government positions and administrative reforms in the government institutions over the past two weeks.

Earlier this month, the Sadrist Current called for the allocation of 15% of the 2011 general budget to the Iraqi people. They claimed they wouldn't vote for it unless the 15% was included in the bill.

The bill, however, was approved by the Parliament and instead of the 15% of the general budget, 20% of the "surplus" was allocated to Iraq's needy families.

Iraq's 2011 budget is suffering from a deficit of US$12 billion.

The demonstrations over the past two weeks have mostly been peaceful but some violent clashes with security forces have erupted.

At least one person has been killed and dozens injured in the protests in the Iraqi provinces other than in the Kurdistan region.

The protests were transferred to Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan's second largest city, last week where protesters called for rooting out corruption in the government institutions, better living conditions, and employment opportunities.

In the Sulaimaniyah protests 3 people were killed and more than 100 were injured when the peaceful demo became violent and demonstrators clashed with guards at the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) headquarters.

The Kurdistan Regional Government has taken security measures to protect the protesters and to make sure the demonstrations are peaceful in case the Kurdish cities took to the streets on Friday along with the rest of the country.

Raber Younis Aziz (AKnews)

Thursday, February 24th 2011 1:24 PM