FALLUJA, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqis protested against corruption and joblessness across the war-ravaged country on Tuesday as anti-government rallies echoed in the Arab world.
Iraqis have long protested against poor basic services and food shortages, but Tuesday they made direct references to the turmoil that has shaken other parts of the region. In the mainly Sunni town of Falluja in western Iraq, about 1,000 protesters gathered near the mayor’s office to demand officials improve services and do more to fight corruption.
In the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk, about 100 people demonstrated near a provincial council building. About 200 protesters rallied in the southern oil-hub of Basra.
In Falluja, one man tried to set himself on fire, mimicking protesters in Tunisia and Egypt where popular uprisings have unseated long-ruling authoritarian leaders. He was stopped by other demonstrators.
“The destiny of our corrupted rulers will be the same as that of (Egypt’s Hosni) Mubarak and (Tunisia‘s) Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali,” said 21-year-old university student Jamal Abdullah, another protester in Falluja.
“This is the time for the youth, we will not be silent against violations and corruption.”
Iraq has been slow in improving services almost eight years after the U.S.-led invasion. Infrastructure is old, electricity shortages are persistent and people’s frustration is growing.
But unlike other countries in the region Iraq’s former autocratic regime has already been swept away by the U.S. invasion, and the new rulers have vowed to rebuild the country.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who secured a second term in office last November and whose government took office less than two months ago, said protests were welcome.
“We admit that there is a shortage in services, and do not want to deliver an excuse for this lack, but we want to clarify the reasons, which is that state revenues are not enough,” Maliki said at a meeting with tribal leaders Monday.
“The financial crisis is for this year only and will disappear in the next year, because our production of oil will double, and will cover a lot of our needs in the areas of construction, reconstruction and investment.”
Iraq sits on some of the world’s biggest oil reserves that have the capacity to propel it into becoming a major oil-producing nation, but poor infrastructure has hindered production and the development of its oil fields.
Protests in Iraq have so far been scattered and appear not to have the same momentum as demonstrations in other parts of the Arab world.
Iraqi groups on the social networking website Facebook are calling for a coordinated protest on February 25. One group, “Iraq revolution” with almost 6,000 supporters, asked for Iraqis to coordinate a mass demonstration.
“We are part of the world affected by what is happening around us,” a member of the group wrote on the website. “The revolution of Tunisia and Egypt is a great motivation for us to embark on this great project.”
Additional reporting by Aref Mohammed in Basra, Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk and Suadad al-Salhy in Baghdad; Writing by Serena Chaudhry; Editing by Maria Golovnina