Protesters demand that the pensions of parliamentarians be cancelled during a demonstration in Karbala, 110km south of Baghdad, yesterday.
BAGHDAD: Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Iraqi cities yesterday to protest lawmakers’ perks despite an intense security crackdown.
Protest organisers demanded an end to what they claim are generous pension benefits granted to members of parliament, and demonstrators aired long-standing grievances about widespread corruption and the poor state of public services.
Iraqi lawmakers are entitled to monthly pension payments of several thousand dollars per month regardless of how long they serve — far more than the amounts government employees and private sector workers typically get after decades of work. Many Iraqis suspect the country’s 325 lawmakers in Parliament are in politics only for the money, and they accuse them of being ineffective and slow to address the country’s myriad problems.
“We want to tell the officials that they should stop stealing. Enough is enough!” said demonstrator Ammar Abdul-Aziz, a 35-year-old engineer in Baghdad.
Authorities did not grant permission for the demonstrations in the capital, drawing criticism from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Security forces blocked bridges and deployed large numbers of rifle-toting soldiers and police in major squares.
Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan Ibrahim defended the security operation, saying authorities were concerned suicide bombers might try to attack the rallies. He insisted authorities had no problem with the demonstrations and that his forces were present only to protect protesters.
If someone tried to kill protesters with a “bomb, all the people will say ‘why didn’t you protect us?’” he said at a Baghdad square protest site. Security forces backed by Humvees and armoured personnel carriers there outnumbered the flag-waving protesters.
One of the Baghdad protest organisers, Mohammed Abbas, said he was beaten by security forces as he and his colleagues were trying to reach the central Tahrir Square. He declared the day’s protests a success despite the low turnout.
Outside the capital, hundreds of people demonstrated in the southern city of Basra, where one banner declared: “The resources of Iraq are for Iraqis, not the lawmakers.” Protests were also reported in Nasiriyah and Hillah, also in the country’s mainly Shia south.
Meanwhile, violence mostly targeting Sunnis in Baghdad and west Iraq left 13 people dead yesterday, including five worshippers killed by gunmen at a mosque, the latest in spiralling violence. In Ramadi a suicide bomber blew himself up against a police patrol in the centre of the city, killing five people, including a lieutenant colonel. Agencies