Baghdad (AP) - Hundreds of Iraqis rallied Monday in central Baghdad, protesting the rampant corruption and the lack of government services that have plagued the country for years.
Iraqis have been venting their anger at the lack of jobs and government services such as electricity in small-scale protests across the country. The protests are not nearly as large as those that toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, but are nonetheless embarrassing for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and highlight the many challenges facing his fragile government faces.
"We want reforms to take place," said Hanaa Adwar, an activist from the nonprofit watchdog group, al Amal. "We have witnessed the popular revolution carried by Tunisian and Egyptian people that led to the toppling of their regime."
She vowed that there would be more protests if the government did not bow to people's demands.
Despite sitting on some of the world's largest oil reserves, Iraqis endure electricity shortages that make summer almost unbearable and leave them shivering in winter. There are also water shortages, and garbage is often left on the streets. At the same time, Iraqis are infuriated by the high salaries earned by their elected officials, compared with ordinary Iraqis.
Many of the demonstrators carried banners that bore the image of a broken red heart, alluding to the fact that the protest took place on Valentine's Day. They shouted slogans saying Iraq's oil wealth should go to the people but goes to thieves instead.
"Government, you should take lessons from Egypt and Tunisia," demonstrators shouted as they walked through downtown.
Across the Middle East, people emboldened by the protests in Tunisia and Egypt have staged demonstrations calling for change.
The gatherings in Iraq have been small in scale, although organizers are promising a much larger event on Feb. 25.
One of the organizers, 31-year-old Bassam Abdul Razzaq, said word of the march had gone out through Facebook, the same way that Tunisian and Egyptian youth rallied support.
The protests have rattled al-Maliki, who met Sunday with government officials to discuss problems facing Iraqis. In a statement from his office, al-Maliki said the government is working to solve the electricity shortages as well as to address the food ration problem.
All Iraqis are entitled to a food ration, a legacy of the days when Iraq was under sanctions. But Iraqis complain that the rations, now given out by the government, are getting smaller, and they blame government corruption.
"Efforts are being exerted to solve these two problems, but we need time and the electricity problem will be completely solved within two years," al-Maliki said.
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.