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 Orphans, widows rally in Baghdad

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مُساهمةموضوع: Orphans, widows rally in Baghdad    السبت 19 فبراير 2011, 9:11 pm

Orphans, widows rally in Baghdad






Hundreds of orphans and widows marched in downtown Baghdad on Saturday, calling on the Iraqi government to take care of them. In the Kurdish north, students demanded an apology over a deadly shooting at a protest earlier this week.

The uprisings sweeping the Middle East have galvanized many in Iraq, one of the rare democracies in the region, to demand better services from their leaders. The demonstrations in the capital and the northern city of Sulaimaniyah were peaceful but five protesters were killed in protests earlier this week.

About 1,500 people rallied in Baghdad in a demonstration organized by non-governmental organizations looking to highlight the plight of some of Iraq's most vulnerable citizens.

The hundreds of thousands of women who lost their husbands in wars over the decades or children who have lost parents are particularly vulnerable.One of those in attendance was 9-year-old Ahmed Nasir, who lost his father in 2006 in a roadside bombing in western Baghdad.

"We have seven children at home," he said. "My mother takes care of us by sewing clothes, and we have no salary."In a statement, the organizations behind the demonstration said they want the government to give each orphan a monthly stipend.

At the University of Sulaimaniyah, in the city of the same name, university students rallied to demand that the president of the Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, apologize for a deadly protest earlier this week in which two people were killed and dozens injured.

On Thursday, hundreds of protesters had demonstrated in front of the offices of Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party in Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles (260 kilometres) northeast of Baghdad. They pelted the building with stones, and Kurdish guards on top of the building opened fire.

Officials from the KDP say their guards were forced to defend themselves from the crowd, and Barzani has appealed for calm.The demonstrators were angry with the tight grip with which the two main ruling parties in the Kurdish north dominate the region and its economy.

By Saad Abdul-Kadir (CP)


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Iraq tries to soothe anger






Unnerved by anti-government protests across the Middle East, Iraqi politicians are buying sugar, diverting money from fighter jets to food, doling out free power and cutting their pay to appease frustrated citizens.

The sudden moves by an elected government installed just two months ago seem designed to head off the kind of popular uprising that unseated long-time rulers in Egypt and Tunisia, although Iraq's nascent democracy is markedly different from entrenched autocracies in the Middle East, analysts said.

Iraqis have long protested against poor government services. But demonstrations against food, power and water shortages have mounted in recent weeks and some protesters are now voicing direct anger at Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's new government.

"Certainly from the steps they (politicians) are taking it would seem that they are nervous," said Gala Riani, Middle East analyst with consultant IHS Global Insight."Iraq has experienced relatively big protests in the past related to the poor state of public services without taking such a big move as increasing electricity subsidies."

For the most part, Iraqis have not called for the federal government, formed after nine agonizing months of political wrangling between Shi'ite, Kurdish and Sunni factions, to step down. Instead they demand the resignation of local officials, better food rations and more electricity.Iraq's national grid supplies just a few hours of power a day and is a constant source of annoyance, especially in summer when temperatures rise above 50 degrees Celsius.

Last week the Electricity Ministry said Iraqis would receive their first 1,000 kilowatt-hours of power for free each month.Dissatisfaction has been rising as progress remains slow eight years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.

The national food program, which offers monthly rations of sugar, rice and other staples to millions, has come under fire due to shortages of some items.The government has delayed the purchase of F-16 fighter jets to put $900 million of allocated funds into rations and bought 200,000 tonnes of white sugar this month to support the plan.

DIVERSE LEADERSHIP

"Maliki's almost panicked response to this new unrest demonstrates the extent to which he feels insecure: a man who is well aware that he obtained his second term as prime minister primarily through guile, stubbornness, and help from Tehran," said Wayne White, a scholar with the Middle East Institute.

Maliki, a Shi'ite, secured a second term as premier in December under a deal that gave shares in the government to minority Sunnis and Kurds.

While democratically elected leaders have pledged to reform Iraq, improvement has been slow. Jobs are scarce and battered infrastructure has hampered development and corruption is rife.Protesters frequently cite rampant corruption as they call for local officials and provincial governors to step aside. Iraq is considered among the most corrupt countries in the world.

To placate frustrated Iraqis, Maliki said this month he would give up half of his $30,000 monthly salary and called for a two-term limit to be put on his office.A bill to cut lawmakers and ministers' salaries -- and the pensions of former lawmakers and ministers -- by 50 percent has also been sent to cabinet for approval.

Iraq's protests have so far been scattered and analysts say it is unlikely that Iraqis will seek to change the government."The Tunisian/Egyptian uprisings revolved around a desire for regime change and free and fair elections," said Ranj Alaaldin, senior analyst at the Next Century Foundation.

"Iraq has a democratically elected coalition government that's representative of the Iraqi society, as opposed to having one ruling individual or family and ruling elite. It is very difficult to coordinate and execute an uprising against a government that is so diverse and heterogeneous."

by
MSNBC.com


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Fresh protests hit Iraqi cities






Violent protests have taken place at various locations in Iraq, with anti-government protesters rallying against corruption, poor basic services and high unemployment.

In Basra, the country's second largest city, about 1,000 people rallied on Friday, demanding better service delivery from the government, jobs and improved pensions.

They called for the provincial governor to resign, and blocked a bridge for an hour. Protesters shouted slogans saying that while Friday's protests would be peaceful, ones held in the future may not be.

"We're living in miserable conditions, no electricity, dirty, muddy streets. We have to make changes. We should not be silent," said Qais Jabbar, one of the protesters.

"I have filed my papers with the provincial council but have gotten no job until now," said Hussein Abdel, an unemployed 25-year-old. "There is corruption in Basra - they have to start taking care of this city and must stop making fake promises."

Protests in Kurdish region

Protests were also held in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, which generally enjoys more economic prosperity than other parts of the country.A Kurdish regional opposition party's offices were attacked by looters, officials said on Friday.

Seven offices of the Goran party in the northern Kurdish provinces of Arbil and Dohuk were attacked, in what officials say was a response to an attack on the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) offices in Sulaimaniyah a day earlier. Two people were killed in that protest, after security forces opened fire on demonstrators.

Iraqi and Kurdish leaders have pledged to bring the perpetrators of the violence to justice. They have also attempted to head off the protests by slashing the salaries of ministers and MPs and diverting cash earmarked for the purchase of fighter jets to buy food for the needy.

On Thursday, one person was killed during protests in the southern city of Kut. Forty-seven others were injured in the protests, prompting New York-based Human Rights Watch to call for an "independent and transparent investigation".Protests were also held on Friday in the southern city of Nasiriyah and elsewhere in the country.

Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, said on Thursday that peaceful protests were the right of all Iraqis, but warned that those inciting violence would be brought to justice."I welcome those who demonstrate peacefully for their legitimate rights, but I am not in favour of those who exploit those claims to incite riots," he told reporters in Baghdad.

Al-Jazeera


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Orchestral manoeuvres in Iraq






LAST summer a group of children from orphanages and nursery schools in the Kurdish city of Ebril attended their first classical music concert. Sitting cross-legged in the dark auditorium the youngsters listened to the unfamiliar strains of Mozart and Haydn performed by 40 self-taught musicians comprising the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq.

"It was the first time most of the children had ever heard classical music," says Zuhal Sultan, who organised the event. "It was wonderful to see how they reacted and how much they enjoyed it and wanted to hear more. The musicians loved playing for such an appreciative audience too."

The children's concert was the highlight of a frenetic year for Sultan, who runs the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq (NYOI) from her home in Glasgow. The 19-year-old moved to Scotland from Baghdad 18 months ago, when the orchestra she created was in its infancy, and continues to be the project's chief organiser, fund-raiser and motivator.

Sultan's next venture will unite her two disparate worlds. She is preparing to bring the NYOI to Scotland, with the help of a £100,000 donation. The orchestra is one of several cultural and humanitarian organisations in Iraq to receive a share of the £13.9 million confiscated from the Glasgow-based Weir Group after it admitted paying bribes to Saddam Hussein's regime to secure contracts in Iraq.

"It is very good news," says Sultan. "Fundraising is extremely difficult in the current financial climate. For the orchestra to visit Scotland will be an immense breakthrough. Most of our musicians have never worked with professionals or interacted with other orchestras.

But it is more than just bringing the orchestra over. The money will help the musicians' education and their psychological wellbeing by getting them away from the madness in Iraq. It will change and enrich young people's lives."

Sultan founded the youth orchestra at a time when classical musicians in Iraq lived in constant fear of reprisals from fundamentalists unleashed after the toppling of Saddam. Many music teachers had fled the country and public concerts were cancelled. Sultan, a talented pianist, held out hope that youngsters who had survived war and political instability could come together through music.

Her first move was to post a press release "Iraqi teenager seeks musicians" online. Among those who saw it was Paul MacAlindin, an Aberdeen-born conductor who now lives in Germany. "I thought it sounded interesting," he says. "I made contact with Zuhal by e-mail. What really grabbed me about her was her purity of intent. She was very clear about what she wanted to happen. I was impressed by her vision."

Sultan appointed MacAlindin NYOI's musical director, a role that now includes running the German-based Friends of the NYOI.

Tracking down musicians aged between 14 and 24 proved more difficult. "In Iraq every aspect of culture is frowned upon by some people. Musicians carrying their instruments would disguise them in shopping bags to avoid trouble," she says. With no obvious place to look for talent, Sultan again turned to the internet. She posted messages in English, Arabic and Kurdish and received more than 50 applications.

After choosing the 33 most promising applicants, Sultan arranged for them to receive online tuition from music teachers overseas. "It was really the only way for musicians to learn," she says. "Many musicians in Iraq are self-taught and this was a way for them to be assessed and helped by proper teachers." With a conductor and musicians in place, her greatest challenge was securing funds. Sultan recalls sitting up all night sending e-mails to anyone she could think of who might help. One night she found the deputy prime minister of Iraq on Twitter and sent him a message asking for his support. He agreed to meet her and handed over $50,000. "It was the quickest $50,000 I ever got," she says.

She also received money from the British Council but that funding has now ended. "Their support was to get the project up and running and this year there is no more money," she says.

The NYOI made its debut in August 2009 in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya. Sultan chose to hold the event outside Baghdad because it was safer for the musicians and the foreign tutors who travelled to Iraq to help train the youngsters. The concert, at the end of a two-week residential camp, was a triumph but Sultan admits that rehearsals were fraught with difficulty. Many of the instruments were in bad repair, the quality of the playing was uneven and the electricity kept shutting off. "But in the end it was amazing. They worked so hard," she says.

Last August Sultan organised the second NYOI summer camp in Erbil. This time there were three concerts, including the children's event, and the orchestra had grown to 40. "I wanted to get more members involved. It seems that the musicians who feel involved with the orchestra also feel more involved with their country. It's a good way for them to learn about democracy."

Sultan had no trouble finding new members. More than 100 musicians responded to her online advert. "It was very competitive this year," she says. "It was difficult to choose because it's not nice to reject people especially when you know this might be their only chance to get proper tuition."

Although she is happy in Glasgow where she lives with her brother, sister-in-law and their two children, Sultan still calls Baghdad home. She was brought up in city by her father, a pathologist, and her mother, a virologist who set up Iraq's first influenza laboratory. "I grew up in a very scientific family. My brothers are doctors and my sister has a degree in women's studies. But I liked to listen to music," she says.

Aged six, Sultan started picking out tunes on a toy piano. Her mother found her a tutor and Sultan was soon displaying precocious talent. She was admitted to Baghdad's prestigious Music and Ballet School where she studied until US-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003.

Sultan was in her early teens when her father and then her mother died. She stayed with her older brother, now her guardian, to finish her education. When war broke out, her piano lessons ended although she continued to practise at home and received online coaching from Reiko Aizawa, a Japanese pianist living in the US.

Music was Sultan's salvation during these dark years: "Things started to really deteriorate by the end of 2004. It was dangerous to go out. My social life disappeared. Most people my age were in the same situation. We depended on the internet for a social life and even that wasn't reliable because the power kept going out. When the electricity was working, Facebook became my second home. Now in Scotland, so far from my friends, it still is."

In 2005 Sultan was invited to join the Iraq's National Symphony Orchestra, which had defied the hardliners by refusing to disband. "The orchestra was an inspiration to me. They kept going through the most difficult times. They were united in their passion for music and courageous too because they were putting their lives at risk," she says.

Performing with the orchestra sparked the idea for a youth version. "I felt very lucky and wished that other young people in Iraq could have the same experience," she says. Her idea won backing from Musicians for Harmony, an American organisation that promotes peace through music, and the British Council in Baghdad.

As NYOI approaches its second birthday, Sultan has ambitious plans for the future. She hopes to organise a third summer camp, bringing together young Iraqis and musicians from the Royal College of Music, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Juilliard School in New York. She has already persuaded Sir Peter Maxwell-Davies to be composer "in residence", from his home in Orkney.

Eventually Sultan intends to return to Iraq but for the time being she will run her orchestra 3,000 miles from its official base. She is studying for A-levels in philosophy, psychology and critical thinking and has received a conditional acceptance from Glasgow University to study law and philosophy, which will tie her to the city for another four years. "They have asked for AAB and I'm expected to get straight As, so I am hopeful," she says.

Her interest in law comes from living in Scotland and seeing how the legal system works. "In Iraq we don't have that. I can see from being here how important it is and I would like to go back and work on that."

In the meantime, she practises piano at the Mitchell Library and harbours another ambition: to be the first Iraqi female conductor of a world-class orchestra. "Maybe I can do all that and keep the NYOI going," she says. "We have achieved so much already it is a miracle. I think people are realising that this is something that is going to last.

By Gillian Harris,
The Scotsman
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Orphans, widows rally in Baghdad
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