Tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets Friday despite calls from religious and political leaders to not take part in the nationwide “Day of Rage” protest.
So far, at least 13 people have reportedly died amid the demonstrations, which were mostly peaceful but turned violent in some areas, including central Baghdad, where clashes ensued between protesters and security forces. Dozens more have been injured, according to officials.
Inspired by uprisings around the Arab world, the demonstrators mostly sought to protest for a better government and to express discontent over corruption, chronic unemployment and poor public services.
"This is not a political protest, but a protest by the people of Iraq," remarked Ahmed Rushdi, head of the House of Iraq Expertise Foundation.
“We want social reform, jobs for young people and direct supervision because there is lots of corruption,” he told Arabic news network Al Jazeera.
Though supportive of peaceful protest, Iraq’s top Shiite religious leaders, including the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, had called for Iraqis to defer Friday’s demonstrations, expressing concern over the possibility that they could spiral “out of control.”
The demonstrations, said al-Sistani’s spokesman in a statement, could “be exploited by people with special agendas.”
On Thursday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki expressed similar concerns, going as far as claiming former members of Saddam Hussein's regime and terrorists were plotting to take advantage of the demonstrations to create chaos in the country.
Despite calls to stay home and a government-imposed curfew, tens of thousands in the Shiite majority country took to the streets.
Since early February, thousands of protesters across the country have participated in a series of demonstrations, apparently inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.