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 municipalbuilding, 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.
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 nomention 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.
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
Feb 19, 2011 - Orphans join Iraq protests over food, shelter. Orphans join protests in Iraq to call for a better standard of living. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.
BAGHDAD — 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."
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.
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."