Iraqi security forces used water cannon and batons to disperse protesters in the southern oil hub of Basra today as thousands of Iraqis rallied around the nation against corrupt officials and poor basic services.
Demonstrations against a shortage of jobs, electricity, water and other basic services have been rising as Iraqis, inspired by protests around the Arab world, demand reforms from a formed in December after elections last year.
In central Basra around 700 protesters near the provincial council building were forcibly removed by Iraqi soldiers and police after they refused to stop demonstrating.
A Reuters reporter at the scene said some journalists were also beaten by security forces. A vehicle ban was in effect.
“I have been applying for a job for six years and did not get one so far. They [officials] ask for bribes to employ people,” said 30-year-old Noor Mohammed, a graduate from Basra University’s engineering faculty.
“I regret electing those people because their democracy is that people should smile at [Prime Minister Nuri] al-Maliki and should say nothing to him.”
Some protesters carried a piece of wood that was carved in the shape of Iraq. A medical tube was attached to the wood, symbolising Iraq as a weak body.
Thousands of Iraqis rallied nationwide last Friday against corruption and poor services. At least 10 people died and scores were wounded in clashes between protesters and security forces.
Unlike other countries in the region where protesters have demanded the ouster of long-ruling autocrats, Iraq saw dictator Saddam Hussein removed eight years ago by a US-led invasion.
But despite having the power to elect their leaders, the public is still widely unhappy with a political system that has left figures with ethnic and sectarian power bases entrenched in office and failed so far to restore basic services.
Many protests have taken place provincial capitals, where Iraq’s decentralised system concentrates power in the hands of regional bosses.
Around 3,000 people today gathered in Celebration Square in Mosul to protest against corruption. Some held pictures of relatives who were killed in last Friday’s protests.