| BACK TO THE BASICS: Iraqis rally against lack of public services, rampant corruption and scarcity of government jobs. |
Iraq would seem to have virtually every ingredient for upheaval: crippling poverty, few good jobs, creaky public services, anger at an entrenched political elite and thousands of young people who meet online to vent their grievances and organise protests.
But the revolution has not come to Iraq. Not yet, at least.
Sporadic demonstrations have rippled through the country recently, as oil workers and nightclub owners, communications workers and communists try to yoke the energy and outrage that toppled President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and galvanised much of West Asia.
One day, a 31-year-old father in northern Iraq, despondent after failing to find steady work, set himself ablaze. His actions carried an echo of the self-immolation that incited an upheaval in Tunisia and then rippled across North Africa.
So far, the demonstrations in Iraq have attracted modest interest and had little visible impact. We are still in evolution, said Fouad Qasim, 25, who said he had not worked since losing his job with a US military contractor three years ago. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week.
Qasim was among about 200 people who joined a Valentines Day protest in Baghdads Tahrir Square, a small plaza on the edge of a traffic circle. Waving red balloons and silk roses, they chanted, We love Iraq! and We need a change! as Iraqi soldiers and police officers looked on.
Organisers are trying to attract followers by setting up Facebook groups with names like Blue Revolution, Streets of Baghdad for Change and Baghdad Will Not Be Kandahar.
Although the Iraqi protestors said they took some inspiration from the huge uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, they also said they were not interested in toppling Iraqs leadership. Iraq, after all, is run by democratically elected lawmakers who forged a coalition government in November after eight months of political paralysis.
Protestors said they could live with the current government, but simply wanted better jobs, reliable electricity, clean streets and security.
We dont want to change the regime, said Hassan Ghazi, 35. We just want to change the services.
But given the depths of Iraqs troubles, toppling a government might be an easier task. About one in five Iraqis is unemployed, though the overall rate of underemployment is thought to be much higher, and much of the joblessness is concentrated among Iraqs youth. Infrastructure is crumbling. People get by on a few hours of electricity every day and are bracing for another sweltering summer with insufficient power.
Despite an overall decline in violence, militants have continued to carry out bombings, assassinations and other attacks that left so many civilians dead, according to the Interior Ministry. In a public opinion poll conducted by the International Republican Institute, more than half the Iraqis surveyed said they thought the country was heading in the wrong direction, with security cited as the largest concern.
Demonstrators and protest organisers say they want to build a movement from that anger. Each one has a different demand, Mohammed Ghazni, 23, said as he surveyed the crowd that filled half of the modest plaza in Baghdad that day.
There were liquor store owners upset that their shops had been shut down, wives pleading for their husbands to be released from jail, women demanding an equal voice in society and students calling for job opportunities.
We need unity, a demand for the same thing, said Ghazni, a third-year law student who is pessimistic about finding a job after he graduates next year. We are trying to bring people together.