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 Tensions flare in Iraq rallies

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مُساهمةموضوع: Tensions flare in Iraq rallies    السبت 26 فبراير 2011, 1:45 am

Tensions flare in Iraq rallies






Hundreds of Iraqis have converged on Baghdad's Liberation Square as part of an anti-government rally named the Day of Rage, organised mainly through the social networking website Facebook.

About 2,000 protesters are said to have already gathered on Friday, which comes after weeks of scattered protests around the country calling for an end to corruption, shortages of jobs, food, power and water.

Iraqi army helicopters buzzed overhead, while trucks took up posts throughout the square, where a groups of protesters shouted ``No to unemployment,'' and ``No to the liar al-Maliki,'' referring to Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad, said that a violent standoff was happening between protesters and police.

The protests also stretched from the northern city of Mosul to the southern city of Basra, reflecting the widespread anger many Iraqis feel at the government's seeming inability to improve their lives.A crowd of protesters in the northern city of Hawija, 240km north of Baghdad, tried to break into the city's municipal building, according to Ali Hussein Salih, the head of the local city council.

That prompted security forces to fire into the air."We had given our instructions to police guards who are responsible for protecting this governmental building not to open fire, only if the demonstrators broke into the building," he said.Three demonstrators were killed and 15 people wounded, according to Fattah Yaseen, the Hawija police chief.

In Mosul, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the provincial council building, demanding jobs and better services, when guards opened fire, a police official said.A police and hospital official told the Associated Press that two protesters were killed and five people wounded.

Thousands demonstrate

Black smoke could later be seen billowing from the building.

While in the south, a crowd of about 4,000 people demonstrated in front of the office of Governor Sheltagh Aboud al-Mayahi in the port city of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, located 550km southeast of Baghdad.They knocked over one of the concrete barriers and demanded his resignation, saying he had done nothing to improve city services.

They appeared to get their wish when Major General Mohammad Jawad Hawaidi, the commander of Basra military operations, told the crowd that the governor had resigned in response to the demonstrations.State television announced that the prime minister asked the governor to step down but made no mention of the protests.

Around 1,000 demonstrators also clashed with police in the western city of Fallujah, located 65km west of Baghdad, witnesses said.The demonstrations have been discussed for weeks on Facebook and in other Internet groups, inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

While demonstrations in other Middle Eastern countries have focused on overthrowing governments, the protests in Iraq have centered on corruption, the country's chronic unemployment and shoddy public services like electricity."We want a good life like human beings, not like animals," said Khalil Ibrahim, a protester in Baghdad.

Recent protests

Like many Iraqis, he railed against a government that locks itself in the highly fortified Green Zone, home to the parliament and the US. embassy, and is viewed by most of its citizens as more interested in personal gain than public service."The government of the Green Zone is terrified of the people's voice,'' he said.

Iraq has seen a number of small-scale protests across the country in recent weeks. While most have been peaceful, a few have turned violent and at least seven people have been killed.The biggest rallies have been in the northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, 260km northeast of Baghdad, against the government of the self-ruled region.

But Iraqi religious and government officials appeared nervous over the possibility of a massive turnout for Friday's rally, and have issued a steady stream of statements trying to dissuade people from taking part.On the eve of the event, Nouri al-Maliki urged people to skip the rally, which he alleged was organised by groups loyal to former ruler Saddam Hussein, and al-Qaeda.

Source:
Al Jazeera



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13 killed in 'Day of Rage' protests






At least 13 people were killed in Iraq on Friday as tens of thousands defied an official curfew to join a nationwide "Day of Rage," echoing protests that have roiled the Middle East and North Africa since January.

Despite pleas by the government and Shiite religious leaders for Iraqis to stay home, demonstrators gathered by the hundreds and thousands from Basra in the south to Mosul and Kirkuk in the north.

The protests were mostly peaceful but often angry, as Iraqis stormed at least three provincial offices and set fire to another. Fatalities were reported in Mosul, Tikrit and a town near Kirkuk after security personnel opened fire on the crowds.

Protesters vented their frustration at local officials as well as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, demanding jobs, more electricity and clean water and better pensions and medical care. In the southern province of Basra, about 10,000 demonstrators forced the resignation of the provincial governor.

And as the sun began to set, protesters in Mosul, Tikrit and Ramadi were clashing with security forces, demanding that local officials step down. Security forces used tear gas, sound bombs and at times live bullets to disperse the crowds.

In Baghdad, where Maliki imposed a curfew that banned cars and even bicycles from the streets, people walked, often many miles, to reach the city's Tahrir Square. Several thousand had gathered by early afternoon.

Surrounded by hundreds of police, soldiers and rooftop snipers, with military helicopters buzzing overhead, protesters waved Iraqi flags and signs reading "Bring the Light Back" (a reference to the lack of electricity), "No to Corruption!" and "I'm a Peaceful Man."

Many said they were protesting for the first time. Among them was Selma Mikahil, 48, who defiantly waved a single 1,000-dinar bill in the air. "I want to see if Maliki can accept that I live on this!" she yelled, referring to her pension, the equivalent of $120 every five months. "I want to see if his conscience accepts this!"

Protesters circled the square and then surged down a road toward the bridge leading to Maliki's offices, where a row of giant concrete blast walls had been erected overnight to block them. At one point, protesters began pushing against the walls, managing to open a crevice and push through. Witnesses said a soldier shot one protester in the stomach, and people began to hurl rocks over the wall after that.

Though demonstrators mostly called for reform and an end to corruption, there were calls here and there for Maliki to step down.

Many said they were shocked by the "indefinite" curfew on cars and bikes imposed late Thursday night, saying the government's attempts to prevent them from demonstrating only motivated them more.

"The government is afraid of the nation!" said engineer Sbeeh Noman, who said he walked 12 miles to reach the square. "They have found out that the people have the real power. We have it."

In Mosul, six people were killed and 21 injured after security guards opened fire on a large crowd gathered in front of the provincial council building to demand jobs and better services. Abdulwahid Ahmed, head of Al Salam Hospital, said all of the dead and injured had been shot. Black smoke could later be seen billowing from the government building, the Associated Press reported.

In Tikrit, four protesters were killed and 15 injured when security forces opened fire with live bullets on demonstrators gathered at provincial governor's office. The crowd was demanding that detainees be released from prisons and chanting slogans against Maliki. "Get out! Get!" they yelled, as local authorities looked down on them from the building's balconies.

At least three people died in Hawija, a mostly Arab town near the troubled northern city of Kirkuk, after police began shooting at a crowd of demonstrators who stormed the local council building. Maj. Abbas Mohammed al-Jibouri, a local security official, said the police were forced to withdraw and that demonstrators were in control of the area.

Protest organizers had hoped the nationwide demonstrations would inject a fresh concept into the exercise of Iraq's fledgling democracy: peaceful expression of discontent. They insisted their goal was to demand a better government, not a new one.

But the days leading up to the protests were defined by anxiety and the increasingly familiar features of Maliki's bare-knuckle governing style.

On Tuesday night, security forces ransacked Iraq's nonprofit Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, which is supporting the protest, carting off computers, hard drives and files. On Wednesday, hundreds of soldiers and police began fortifying Tahrir Square, checking IDs and photographing the smattering of protesters who had begun unfurling banners reading "No to bribes!" and "The oil money is for the people!"

Maliki, who had begun the week welcoming the protest, urged people in a televised speech Thursday to stay away. He said the event seemed "suspicious" and was likely to be infiltrated by al-Qaeda or perhaps loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party or "terrorists" seeking to co-opt it for their own purposes.

Soldiers set up checkpoints blockading many Baghdad neighborhoods. Near midnight Thursday, a red banner flashed across state television broadcasts announcing the curfew, a draconian measure more often deployed to deal with insurgent attacks.

Still, many of the young protesters said they were undeterred, and proved it by walking for hours to get to the protest sites.

"If they want to get rid of our demonstration, then let them do reforms," Ziad al-Ajeeli, director of the press group that was raided, said Thursday. "This is a new concept. Previously, people thought you had to change things with weapons. Now we want to change things through our ideas. We want Iraqi society to be a civil society."

But perhaps the biggest blow to the planned protest came from the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, one of the few Iraqi leaders able to command hundreds of thousands of followers into the streets.

Returning to Iraq from Iran on Wednesday, Sadr issued a careful statement welcoming peaceful protests but urged his devotees to delay participating for six months, to give the government more time to address widespread complaints. Once one of the government's main enemies, the fiercely anti-American cleric is now part of Maliki's fragile governing coalition, and analysts speculate that he would rather not see it collapse, at least not now.

The cleric's move "will have the intended effect of calming things down," said Joost Hiltermann, Middle East program director for the International Crisis Group. "The question remains what others will do - the secular young in Baghdad and elsewhere."

At least five protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces during recent demonstrations across the country, each featuring similar demands: more access to electricity and clean water and an end to corruption. The protests were partly inspired by the peaceful revolution that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

In some cases, protesters have thrown rocks and set government buildings on fire. Demonstrations against an entrenched political elite in normally peaceful Kurdistan have numbered in the thousands.

By Stephanie McCrummen,
The Washington Post




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Orphans Protest Over Food and Shelter






Fadel Mohammad Ra'ad, 10, is one of thousands of children who have lost their parents to the endless violence that has been gripping Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion.

"My parents were killed in an explosion at the center of Baghdad last year, leaving me and my sister to no one," the kid told IslamOnline.net in a Baghdad orphanage.

"I have relatives but all of them have refused to take us in," he added choking at the memory."We were forced to work to survive."Children, like many other civilians, are the silent victims of violence in war-torn Iraq.

"Violence in Iraq has vast characteristics. Sectarian violence, resistance against US troops, traditional behaviors and the fight against the hungry," explains Haydar Hassan Kareem, a sociologist.The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs estimate that around 4,5 million children are orphans. Nearly 70 percent of them lost their parents since the invasion and the ensuing violence.

From the total number, around 600,000 children are living in the streets without a house or food to survive.Only 700 children are living in the 18 orphanages existing in the country, lacking their most essential needs.

"Unfortunately the budget allocated to projects that help street children and orphans is decreasing day in and day out," notes an Iraqi Red Crescent employee refusing to give his name."Worse still, almost no NGO is dedicating itself to this group of kids who are subject to trafficking and sexual abuses in the streets."

Abused

Hamed Abdel-Sattar, 9, has to spend hours at the streets moving from one traffic light to another trying to make a living for him and his 7-year-old sister."My father was killed during the invasion and my mother seven months later in a suicide attack," he said."We don't know where our relatives are and had to steel to get enough money to buy candies and sell them today," he added.

"I know what I did is wrong but we had to eat. I think that God will forgive me," reasons the nine-year-old."Sometimes I cry alone and don't eat to leave it for my sister but one day I will be rich and will help all orphans in Iraq."

Living together at an abandoned shop on the outskirts of Baghdad, Abdel-Sattar says he was once sexual abused while trying to prevent his sister from being raped."They took me because I helped her to escape," he says, closing his eyes to the ugly memory.

Cruel Orphanages

Abdel-Sattar was taken to a local orphanage weeks after his mother was killed but run away after constant aggressions from the local employees."They hate us. They treat us like animals and the food was bad," he remembers.

"Everything was dirty and I couldn't see my sister being hurt anymore. I decided to take her and search for a place to stay. The streets are much better than that hell."Ra'ad and his sister, who were recently moved to one orphanage in Baghdad, confirms the same pattern.

"Life here isn't easy and most people working at this place are cruel with children."During a military raid in an area northwest of Baghdad in June 2007, US troops discovered more than twenty naked and abused boys at the al-Hanan orphanage.A senior official at the government-run Al-Hanan told IOL all staffs have since been changed.

"Iraqi orphanages have a bad history of torture and bad treatments but we are trying to change this. However, we need huge investments to comfort these children and after that we will be able to receive more street children."He argues that children are being looked after with more care and tenderness, though the children say otherwise.

Kareem, the sociologist, warns that many children will be left scared for the rest of their lives."Innocent children are paying for being part of this scenario."First they lose their parents and then they have to live in places with people who do not care about their psychological well-being."




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Support Iraqi orphans






Thousands of orphans have been joining the fresh wave of protests across Iraq, where an estimated 4.5 million children have been calling on the government to provide them with support but are also urging that immediate action be taken to assist the 500,000 homeless children, who receive neither financial assistance from the government, or have anyone to actually care for them.

Back in 2005, a report was published by the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks, which brought to light the growth of child prostitution in liberated Iraq and stated that extreme poverty had lead to an increase in the kidnapping of children and forcing them into the sex trade.

It was noted that children as young as 13 had become victims of this sexual tyranny, which was being ignored by the US and UK, with the problem being intensified by the growing displacement of Iraqi nationals, as a consequence of sectarian tensions.

The Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration reported in June 2006, that around 40,000 Iraqi children had been displaced due to violence and in July, later published figures which stated that 90 children had died in Basra due to a "lack of medicine", with the number having risen from the previous year.

A shocking fact remains, that these deaths had to be recorded by local NGOs, as a consequence of the Iraqi authorities having no "official statistics about the number of children who have died", since liberation back in 2003, with a possible explanation for the lack of accounting into child deaths being the attacks against medical professionals.

The Iraq Index, compiled by the Brookings Institution in Washington, have estimated that up to 40 per cent of Iraq's professionals have fled the country since the occupation started, as a result of a campaign against them by terrorist organisations, with doctors and pharmacists topping the proverbial “hit lists“.

It is no surprise, that such findings fail to make the headlines, when silence has fallen upon the 400,000 Iraqi children, suffering from a poverty related condition called “wasting“, or the estimated 1.3 million Iraqi children, between 8 to 16 years of age, who over the past eight years have been forced to abandon education and take up jobs to supplement a families meagre income.

The Association of Psychologists of Iraq, have repeatedly warned about the damage caused to the mental health of Iraq’s children, with a dramatic growth in “learning” and other “impediments” brought on by the fear of guns, bullets and death”.

A justified fear one can safely assume, with one child describing to IRIN back in 2007, why he was afraid to go to school, “I'm scared of the killings taking place in Iraq. Many of my friends have either been kidnapped or killed.”

The article, which was titled “Id rather be illiterate”, also exposed how “attacks and kidnapping in schools have made parents afraid that the next victims would be their children“ and so they have preferred to keep them out of education until the “situation improves“.

Even University students have bore the brunt of Iraq’s turmoil, with Baghdad students complaining how "ninety per cent of our teachers have changed in the past years. The ones who have come to replace them are not well prepared or have no experience, leaving us without good professionals for teaching and training."

Over half of Iraq's population is below fifteen years of age and even former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was forced to admit, that for the children of Iraq, the war and invasion has been a "real disaster", with psychiatrists also describing the long term damage as having created a million potential Saddam Hussein’s.

But with the British people having now spent £9.24 billion on the Iraqi Government, through the invasion and occupation, along with an extra £557 million in aid packages alone, to prop up a regime described as being the “fourth most corrupt in the world“, the least that people can do now, is actually support Iraq’s orphans, by demanding a system is put in place, to provide welfare for each of these children

Hussein Al-alak is a journalist, campaigner and chairman of Iraq Solidarity UK. You can read more articles by Hussein on his blog http://www.totallyhussein.blogspot.com/




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The Return of Iraq's Shoe Thrower






When Hosni Mubarak issued his defiant - and, as it transpired, toothless - vow to remain in office, thousands of Egyptian protesters in Cairo responded by waving their shoes in the air. At that moment, Muntazer al-Zaidi, 32, allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction.

Brandishing shoes at someone is considered a grave affront in much of the Arab world, but Zaidi, an Iraqi journalist, famously took the art of footwear insults to a new level in December 2008 when he hurled a pair of his work shoes at the head of President George W. Bush during a press conference in Baghdad. "I wanted to send a message to the world and I'm happy that the message was received," he tells TIME. That carefully-planned one-man "day of anger" won him admirers around the globe and sparked a wave of copycat shoe throwing from Canada to Sweden and from the U.K. to India.

For all the shoe leather, Zaidi was bundled out of the press conference by Iraqi security officers and thrown into jail where he says he was beaten and tortured with electricity. For weeks, Zaidi was unaware of the international impact of his act of protest as he was held in solitary confinement for three months in a cell measuring less than five square feet. Zaidi says his jailers told him that his action had been widely condemned and that he must apologize or face execution by hanging. "The [Iraqi] government inherited lying from Bush," he says. "I said 'hang me. I have nothing to lose.'"

After serving nine months of a year-long prison sentence, he was released on good behavior and has lived in exile outside of Iraq ever since.

But the uprisings in Tunisia then Egypt have encouraged Iraqi activists to launch their own broad campaign to demand a reform of the political system. Zaidi plans to return to Iraq to participate in a mass rally scheduled for Feb. 25 in Baghdad's own Tahrir Square. The planned demonstration, he promises, will overcome the sectarian and ethnic divisions that have plagued Iraqi society in recent years to draw Sunnis, Shi'ites, Christians, Arabs and Kurds. "We never used to have sectarianism until the Americans came to Iraq," he says.

Zaidi presently lives in Beirut, the Lebanese capital, where he works for a local television station and pens a weekly column for the pan-Arab Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper. Dressed in a pristine white shirt and sporting a neatly trimmed stubbly beard, he sips from a glass of tea and smokes a hubble-bubble as he chats. On the table in front of him is a sheet of lined paper half-filled with neat hand-written Arabic script, his latest dispatch to his newspaper.

In December, Zaidi published his memoirs, The Last Salute to President Bush, describing the shoe-throwing incident and the events leading up to it. Written in Arabic, he is hoping it will be picked up by a U.S. publisher and translated into English. "It will show the Americans what really happened in Iraq from the eye of a journalist and a citizen," he says.

In some respects, Zaidi epitomizes the new youthful generation of Arab activists who have overcome the pervasive fear that for years cowed their parents into submission before corrupt, venal and ossified police regimes. "The beliefs of our parents do not match the needs of our times," he says.

The stunning success of the anti-regime protests in Tunisia and Egypt were sparked by years of injustice and frustration but were made possible by the media communications revolution, which Zaidi says, turns protests into "leaderless networks". "In the past, someone would call for a revolution and he would be arrested and the revolution would end," Zaidi says. "But today, people can incite revolutions through Facebook, Twitter and messaging. The era of one leader is over. Now it's the people leading themselves."

He is no friend of American foreign policy, but admitted that the regular elections in the U.S. and the freedom to demonstrate in the West have drawn the envious eye of Arabs living under repressive regimes. "Young people watch the satellite television stations and ask why Americans can elect new leaders every four years but they cannot in their country," he says. "Today, the media are the mobilizer of revolutions."

Zaidi left Iraq after receiving multiple death threats and he knows he is running a great risk by returning to Baghdad to take part in the planned demonstration. But he says any fears have been quashed by the encouraging personal messages he received from the protesters in Egypt and Tunisia. "They were saying that they were inspired by me personally to not be afraid," he says, barely able to hide a smile of pride. "We have worries, but fear is an obstacle to action. Besides, any revolution needs blood, the same as a car needs fuel."

By NICHOLAS BLANFORD,
TIME Magazine
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Tensions flare in Iraq rallies
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