Security forces opened fire on the thousands of demonstrators on Iraq’s Day of Rage today, killing six people in the largest protests in a country that had seen mostly small-scale protests until now.
About 3,000 anti-government protesters marched in Baghdad, which was “virtually locked down Friday, with soldiers searching protesters entering Liberation Square and closing off the plaza and side streets with razor wire,” the Associated Press reported. Demonstrators clashed with security forces there, as army helicopters buzzed overhead and Humvees and trucks surrounded Liberation Square.
Today’s angry protests stretched from the northern cities of Mosul and Hawija, where six protesters are reported dead, to the western city of Fallujah and southern cities of Karbala and Basra, according to the AP. In Basra, the country's second-largest city, some 4,000 protesters called for the resignation of Gov. Sheltagh Aboud al-Mayahi.
Friday marks a stark escalation from the ongoing small-scale demonstrations in the country over the last few weeks decrying government corruption and shortages of food, water, and power. Previous protests killed seven people over the last few weeks, the AP reported. The goal of the previous protests was not as much to overthrow the government as in Tunisia and Egypt, but rather to demand that the government meet their basic needs—especially electricity.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had urged people to skip today’s rallies, saying that they were organized by supporters of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. Maliki had tried to pre-empt the unrest sweeping through the region by announcing on February 5 that he would not seek a third term when his term expires in 2014, but the Wall Street Journal has reported that Maliki hasn't completely ruled out a third term for himself quite yet. Maliki did pledge to reduce his salary by half and return the money to the state budget, to “contribute to reduce the disparities in living standards in the various states of society,” he said in a statement.