BAGHDAD — Hundreds of lawyers took to the streets across Iraq on Thursday to protest against widespread corruption and unemployment in demonstrations inspired by anti-government uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
The demonstrations in Baghdad, Karbala, Kut, Ramadi and Amara came a day after Iraq's anti-corruption chief said ministers frequently covered up graft in their departments.
In the capital, around 500 people, mostly lawyers but also including some tribal sheikhs, called for the government to open up so-called "secret prisons" to scrutiny, give detainees access to legal counsel and take stronger measures to fight corruption and boost employment.
"This demonstration will not end until our demands are met," Kadhim al-Zubaidi, spokesman for the Baghdad lawyers' guild, told AFP.
"We want lawyers to be protected, the corrupt to be fired, and more jobs for the Iraqi people."
Protesters held up a banner which read: "Lawyers call for the government to abide by the law and provide jobs for the people," and: "The government must provide jobs and fight the corrupt."
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both charged that Iraqi security forces maintain secret prisons, where detainees are not given access to lawyers and are subjected to physical abuse, accusations the Iraqi government denies.
About 500 lawyers and others turned up at two separate demonstrations in the city of Kut, southeast of Baghdad, to protest against the lack of basic services, such as electricity, water and sewerage.
"This demonstration expresses the will of the Iraqi people, not just lawyers, demanding that the governor and city council leader raise the level of services," said Sajat Hussein, a 30-year-old protester who joined about 200 others outside the Kut city court.
One protester at the other demonstration said the street outside his home resembled a "marsh" after rain because of inadequate sewerage.
Iraq's infrastructure for basic services such as water and electricity has been suffering from the destruction of the US-led invasion of 2003 and its aftermath, and the two decades of war and UN sanctions that preceded it.
Graft has also been a persistent problem, with Transparency International rating Iraq the fourth-most corrupt country in the world.
In an interview with AFP on Wednesday, Iraq's anti-corruption czar said that instead of fighting graft Iraq's ministers preferred to hide departmental corruption.
In the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, south of the capital, about 200 lawyers and other demonstrators called for jobs, better services and full food rations.
Rabia al-Masaudi, the head of Karbala's lawyers' guild, mocked the 12 dollars that the government has been giving out each month to families in lieu of rations that included cooking oil, rice, flour and sugar.
"We reject this amount of money," he said, adding that MPs were getting paid $11,000 per month, while many of the six million families nationwide who depend on government rations were receiving $12 a month in place of their full supplies.
Demonstrators held up football-style yellow cards as a warning to officials.
"Today we are carrying yellow cards, but if services are not improved we will return with red cards," Masaudi said.
Karbala provincial council went on strike to protest parliament's rejection of the province's request for an exceptional hardship allowance in this year's budget, its leader said.
Small demonstrations were also held in Ramadi, west of the capital, and Amara in the south.
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