KIRKUK // Hundreds demonstrated in Iraqi cities yesterday, inspired by protests around the Arab world, to demand more jobs and dependable electricity.
The biggest turnout was in Fallujah, where about 800 protesters marched through the city. Groups of about 200 demonstrated in the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk and the Shiite district of Sadr City in Baghdad.
"We are calling today for better basic services and more jobs," said Sattar Omar, a jobless 27-year-old in Fallujah. "We have been suffering for a very long time, and it is time for us to demand our rights."
In Kirkuk, Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen demonstrators turned out in traditional garb to call for better basic services, lower fuel prices and more jobs.
"There is no life without electricity", "Give us food" and "Stop corruption," their banners read.
"We demand that our civil freedoms are guaranteed, that corrupt officials are punished, and that we get better basic services and cheaper fuel," said Shaker Hassan, a demonstrator at the protest organised by secular groups.
Clerics were among the protesters who turned out in Sadr City carrying banners that read: "We do not beg, we demand our rights" and "No to corruption, Yes to basic services."
Protests over irregular deliveries of food rations and lack of basic services have increased since the recent uprisings that toppled the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt.
A jobless 30-year-old man in northern Iraq set himself on fire and died on Sunday, the latest in a rash of copycat suicides across the Arab world.
Facebook groups which have organised smaller protests, including a Valentine's Day demonstration in Baghdad, are calling for a large turnout at a February 25 rally in the capital.
Unlike the pro-democracy protests elsewhere, Iraqi demonstrators demand improvements to living standards eight years after the invasion which overthrew Saddam Hussein.
Iraqis staged violent demonstrations last summer in several cities over power rationing as temperatures reached 54 degrees Celsius.
Homes and businesses across Iraq suffer daily power cuts and rely on generators to fill the gap.
On Monday, the government announced that it was postponing the purchase of 18 F-16 fighter planes from the United States and diverting the money to feed the poor.
Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki said after the demonstration on Monday that he was not opposed to protests.
"Protesting is a right guaranteed by the constitution, and I ordered the security forces to protect" the demonstrators, the prime minister said in a meeting with local officials.