Anti-riot forces members hit a protester during a demonstration in Karbala,… (Mushtaq Muhammed / REuters )
Reporting from Baghdad — Anti-government protests across Iraq on Friday led to violent clashes between some demonstrators and security forces, leaving at least 11 people dead and many buildings in flames.
Inspired by protests in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Iraqis marched outside official buildings and in town centers calling for less corruption, more jobs and better public services as part of a "day of rage."
Protesters reportedly were killed in the cities of Mosul, Hawija, Tikrit and Kalar.
In Baghdad, witnesses said security forces fired live ammunition and used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd. Many people were beaten and chased through the streets. No deaths were reported in the Iraqi capital.
As many as 5,000 people, mainly young men, had massed in Baghdad's Tahrir Square in the late morning. They tried to push past a barrier of blast walls over the Jumhuriya Bridge and into the heavily protected Green Zone, site of the parliament and politicians' homes. ¿¿¿
As the protesters toppled part of the barrier, hundreds of riot police officers marched over the bridge to block their path. The officers came under a hail of stones as angry demonstrators chanted that Prime Minister Nouri Maliki was a liar and that they would not leave.
"Most people want to get inside the Green Zone and ask Maliki where the country's money is," said Adel, 33, a taxi driver who did not want to give his last name. "Is it under his bed, or did he send it to Iran to build nuclear weapons to attack Iraq?"
Iraqi police sources said two journalists were arrested.
The demonstrations were launched despite warnings from security forces and officials, including Maliki, that terrorists might target crowds of protesters.
Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the leading religious figure for Iraq's Shiite majority, and other clerics urged people not to attend the protests. The anti-Western cleric and politician Muqtada Sadr, who returned to Iraq from his Iranian residence this week, told his followers to give the government six months to improve services.
The day of protests had been planned and discussed on social networking sites and by civil society organizations.
"I'm asking, if the government is saying we can have peaceful protests, why do they stop us?" said Abu Saif, 60, a retired government employee demonstrating in Baghdad. "Are they worried? We voted for them.... Do you see any stick or gun in anyone's hand?"
In Mosul, health ministry officials said five people had been killed. Government buildings were set afire in Anbar province in western Iraq, and three people were killed in demonstrations in Hawija, near the northern city of Kirkuk. Two deaths were reported in Tikrit and one in Kalar.
In the southern oil hub of Basra, where protesters surrounded the provincial building, the governor, Sheltagh Abboud, resigned.
Sajad Kathim, 23, a student at Baghdad University, said Iraqis had been inspired by Egyptians' demand for change and wanted solutions to their problems.
"We don't want to bring anyone down, we voted for these people, we have democracy" he said. "But they have to change."
Hanna Edwar, a lawyer and civil society activist, said she expected more demonstrations.
"People are worried about the situation," she said. "They have to continue."
Fordham is a special correspondent and Salman a staff writer in The Times' Baghdad bureau.