BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A wave of uprisings across the Arab world have inspired Iraqi youth to plug into social media and organise their own “day of rage” on Friday against poor basic services in Iraq.
Thousands of Iraqis are expected to take part in the demonstration, organised mainly through social networking site Facebook, after weeks of scattered protests around the country calling for an end to shortages of jobs, food, power and water.
“February 25 is the Iraqi day of rage for change, an end to corruption and sectarianism in Iraq,” said one post on the wall of Facebook group ‘Baghdad Facebook’, which had over 3,000 supporters.
A member of another Facebook group with more than 3,000 supporters called ‘A street without a hole in Baghdad’ called on people to take part in peaceful protests to improve services.
It is impossible to verify how many members of such groups live in Iraq.
Iraqis have long complained about a lack of basic services but, unlike other states in the region, have not called in recent rallies for a change of government in a country still trying to get back on its feet eight years after the U.S.-led invasion.
Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk, Sulaimaniya and other cities and towns have been hit by protests, some leading to clashes between protesters and security forces. Several people have been killed and scores wounded.
Iraq’s democratically elected government, which took office two months ago, has so far welcomed protests and politicians have promised to rebuild the oil-rich country, whose development has been hindered by poor infrastructure.
Popular uprisings mobilised by youths using social media, which unseated Tunisia and Egypt’s long-ruling leaders, have motivated young Iraqis.
“Let the voice of freedom be heard in all of Baghdad’s streets and let’s take a lesson from Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Long live Iraq,” wrote one supporter of Facebook group ‘February revolution against corruption’.
Other groups encouraged Iraqis living abroad to support the demonstration by protesting outside Iraqi embassies, while Iraqi website www.kitabat.com has dedicated its home page to news and information on the planned Friday protest.
While the demonstration in central Baghdad is expected to attract mass support, Iraqi Shi’ite clerics including revered Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Moqtada al-Sadr have urged their followers not to let them get out of hand.
“We sympathise with the legitimate demands of the people ... People have a right to demonstrate and express their opinions, but we are afraid they will go out of control,” Sistani said of Friday’s planned protest.
Sadr, in a statement delivered by one of his assistants, Hazim al-Araji, said he would support a peaceful demonstration but asked Iraqis to give the government six months to try to address their demands over a lack of basic services.
Sadr’s political movement overcame longstanding differences with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to join his government.
Security also remains a concern in Iraq, where bombings occur daily and insurgents still carry out lethal attacks.
Security forces have kept a close watch on Baghdad’s Tahrir Square since Monday and officials said earlier this week that television crews would not be allowed to cover the rally live. No vehicles will be allowed to enter Baghdad on Friday.
The Interior Ministry warned protesters in a statement to be cautious of any groups posing as security forces.
“Beware of groups wearing army or police uniforms who mingle with protesters and try to provoke them to riot or become violent,” it said.
Additional reporting by Suadad al-Salhy and Muhanad Mohammed; Writing by Serena Chaudhry; editing by Tim Pearce