Baghdad protesters converge on Liberation Square

Anti-government demonstrations held across Iraq, despite tight security and bans on driving

Iraqi security forces in Baghdad
Iraqi security forces close a bridge leading to the heavily guarded Green Zone in Baghdad. Photograph: Khalid Mohammed/AP

Hundreds of people have converged on Baghdad’s Liberation Square for an anti-government demonstration despite a ban on vehicles that forced many to walk for hours to the centre of the Iraqi capital.
The Baghdad protest is one of many taking place across the country as Iraqis rally for the second Friday in a row. The demonstrations, inspired by revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, have concentrated on demands for improved government services, better pay and an end to corruption.
“Our country is lost and for the last eight years the government has failed to offer services for people. Thousands of youths are without jobs,” said Bahjat Talib.
He said he walked from Sadr City in eastern Baghdad through eight checkpoints to get to the square, telling security forces he was going to work so they would let him pass.
About 500 demonstrators are in Liberation Square, surrounded by what appears to be even more security forces.
The Iraqi government has taken strict measures apparently designed to limit the number of demonstrators. A vehicle ban was imposed in the capital on Thursday and similar bans are in place in the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, and the southern city of Basra.
Side streets leading to Liberation Square are blocked with security vehicles, while helicopters buzz overhead.
Security forces around Iraq clashed with protesters last Friday in the country’s most widespread and violent demonstrations since a wave of unrest began to spread across the Middle East. At least 14 people were killed.
Before the demonstrations, Iraqi officials had said they were backed by supporters of the late dictator Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, in warnings that seemed designed to keep people away and paint those who did take part in a bad light.
Demonstrators this Friday took measures to protect themselves. Kamil al-Assadi, from Sadr City, formed a committee to check demonstrators entering the square because they were worried the security forces might plant people in the crowd.
“We do not trust the Iraqi security forces and formed a committee to check the demonstrators to make sure that no one is carrying a knife or any kind of weapon who aims at creating any problems during the demo,” he said.
In Basra, about 1,000 people converged on the provincial council building. Last week the protests in the city led to the resignation of the governor. This week they are demanding that the provincial council step down and essential services such as water and electricity be improved.

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