At least 19 people were killed and hundreds arrested after thousands of Iraqis staged protest marches during last Friday's 'day of wrath.' They were demanding better living conditions, more jobs and less corruption.
Baghdad protesters want better living conditions
"It's taken me four hours to get here because I had to walk all the way from home. I'm exhausted," Muhannad Rahman told Deutsche Welle - just one of many protesters gathered at Baghdad´s Tahrir Square.
Thousands of protesters defied the curfew and the ban on cars and bicycles imposed by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki´s administration and gathered in the capital's main square. Meanwhile, the children took advantage of a unique opportunity to play soccer in the middle of the deserted avenues.
Security was tight and protesters were constantly monitored by helicopters flying overhead as well as by snipers from atop the surrounding buildings.
Most of the protesters' slogans were directed against al-Maliki himself. "Yes to justice, no to corruption," "freedom," "water and electricity," or "bring the light back," the latter a clear reference to the poor electricity supply throughout the country.
"Americans set this government of thieves and now they should do something to remove it, the same they did with Saddam. We haven't seen any changes in the country since the invasion in 2003," Fuad Kassam, another protester, told Deutsche Welle while pointing at the large number of craters still visible in the buildings in downtown Baghdad.
Other protesters showed their discontent for the alleged curtailment of freedoms in the country. "I moved to Sweden 20 years ago. Every time I come back to visit my family this place looks more like Tehran than my native Baghdad," said Falih Hassan, a university professor in Sweden. "Here I cannot go dancing with my wife, I cannot buy a beer and I cannot even walk in the streets at night because of the midnight curfew... What kind of freedom is this?," he complained.
Nonetheless, not all the marchers shared the same discontent.
"Why did I come to Tahrir? I think al-Maliki is doing well but there's very little one can do on a free day in Baghdad without electricity at home," said Morthada Bakker, a local journalist.
Protesters tried to reach Baghdad's Green Zone
Downtown Baghdad witnessed moments of tension when a group of protesters left the round square and tried to jump over the concrete wall blocking Jumhuriyah bridge. The protesters had tried to reach the "Green Zone" but security forces managed to disperse the crowd gathering on the bridge across the Tigris river. Deutsche Welle witnessed a significant number of injuries.
"If the guys from Sadr City had come today this would be very different - they would never send us away from here," claimed a young man with the word "Hurria" (freedom) written on his bare chest. Religious and political leader, Moqtada Al Sadr, had called Iraqis to stay home after negotiations with al-Maliki's administration the day before. Nonetheless, several clerics could be spotted among the demonstrators in Tahrir square.
A significant number of journalists also denounced police brutality against them during the demonstrations throughout the country.
Iraqi video-journalist Yousef Al Timimi told Deutsche Welle that he had been beaten by three policemen who also destroyed his camera despite having produced his press accreditation.
There were also tense moments between protesters calling for a peaceful march and those who wanted to boycott it by throwing stones at the police and the army.
There were tense moments between protesters and security forces
"We need the police and the army with us, and not against us," protester Rafiz Kassem told Deutsche Welle.
Despite talks between protesters and security officials, there were clashes as police dispersed the marchers with tear gas and water jets. Several people were arrested.
Away from Baghdad, casualties were also reported in the mainly Sunni cities north of Baghdad such as Mosul, Fallujah, Tikrit and Hawiya.
Three provincial governors from al-Maliki´s State of Law Coalition have resigned since the beginning of protests. Responding to the growing unrest, the Iraqi prime minister announced a "100-day period of changes and reforms," while the speaker of the parliament, Osama al-Nujaifi, called for early provincial elections.
But the recent measures taken by the government didn't seem to appease the protesters with a number of internet sites and independent media calling for further rallies in the coming days.
Author: Karlos Zurutuza, Baghdad
Editor: Rob Mudge