BAGHDAD (AP) - Thousands marched on government buildings and clashed with security forces in cities across Iraq on Friday, in the largest and most violent anti-government protests here since political unrest began spreading in the Arab world several weeks ago. (Scroll down for photos)
In two northern Iraqi cities, security forces trying to push back crowds opened fire, killing six demonstrators. In the capital of Baghdad, demonstrators knocked down blast walls, threw rocks and scuffled with club-wielding troops.
The protests, billed as a "Day of Rage, were fueled by anger over corruption, chronic unemployment and shoddy public services.
"We want a good life like human beings, not like animals," said Khalil Ibrahim, 44, one of about 3,000 protesters in the capital Baghdad.
Like many Iraqis, he railed against a government that locks itself in the highly fortified Green Zone, home to the parliament and the U.S. Embassy, and is viewed by most of its citizens as more interested in personal gain than public service.
The center of Baghdad was virtually locked down Friday, with soldiers searching protesters entering Liberation Square and closing off the plaza and side streets with razor wire. The heavy security presence reflected the concern of Iraqi officials that demonstrations here could gain traction as they did in Egypt and Tunisia, then spiral out of control.
Iraqi army helicopters buzzed overhead, while Humvees and trucks took up posts throughout the square, where flag-waving demonstrators shouted "No to unemployment," and "No to the liar al-Maliki," referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Demonstrators trying to get across a bridge going from the square to the Green Zone clashed with security forces. The demonstrators knocked down some of the concrete blast walls that were put up Thursday night and threw rocks at troops who beat them back with batons. Six riot police and 12 demonstrators were wounded in the melee, said police and hospital officials.
The protests 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 angry marchers in the northern city of Hawija, 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Baghdad, tried to break into the city's municipal building, said the head of the local city council, Ali Hussein Salih.
Security forces trying to block the crowd opened fire, killing three demonstrators and wounding 15, local officials said. The Iraqi Army was eventually called in to restore order.
In Mosul, also in northern Iraq, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the provincial council building, demanding jobs and better services, when guards opened fire, according to a police official. A police and hospital official said three protesters were killed and 15 people wounded. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media.
Black smoke could later be seen billowing from the building.
In the south, about 4,000 people demonstrated in front of the office of Gov. Sheltagh Aboud al-Mayahi in the port city of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles (550 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad. They knocked over one of the concrete barriers and demanded his resignation, saying he'd done nothing to improve city services.
They appeared to get their wish when the commander of Basra military operations, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Jawad Hawaidi, told the crowd that the governor had resigned in response to the demonstrations. Iraqi state TV announced that the prime minister had asked the governor to step down but did not mention the protests.
Around 1,000 demonstrators also clashed with police in the western city of Fallujah 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad clashed with authorities, witnesses said. And in the southern city of Karbala, about 1,000 protesters rallied for better services.
In recent weeks, there had been scattered anti-government protests in Iraq. While most have been peaceful, a few have turned violent and seven people have been killed. The biggest rallies have been in the northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles (260 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad, against the government of the self-ruled region.
On the even of the marches, al-Maliki urged people to skip the rally, which he alleged was organized by Saddamists and al-Qaida -- two of his favorite targets of blame for an array of Iraq's ills. He offered no evidence to support his claim.