'Day Of Rage' Protests Continue In Iraq

Protests in Iraq continued Sunday, for a third day since the country's "day of rage" saw demonstrations in cities across the country. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has given his cabinet 100 days to shape up or risk being fired.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A day of rage in Iraq, last Friday, turned into a weekend of rage as protestors kept up their demonstrations. The number of dead continues to rise. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has given his cabinet 100 days to shape up or risk being fired. Demonstrators are demanding more, as NPR's Kelly McEvers reports.

KELLY MCEVERS: Nouri al Maliki is on TV a lot these days, first promising to cut his own salary, now saying he'll sack his ministers if they don't address protesters demands for jobs and better services like electricity and clean water. So far the prime minister has yet to turn the criticism on himself.

Prime Minister NOURI AL MALIKI (Iraq): (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Maliki also has promised to investigate any wrongdoing by security forces during recent protests.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

This video reportedly shows the fatal shooting of a protester in the northern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniya´┐Żover the weekend. So far, at least 17 protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces around the country and hundreds more have been injured. Three regional governors have resigned.

Now, protesters are calling for more demonstrations a week from today. They're calling it the day of regret, to mark the one-year anniversary of the country's parliamentary elections.

Crowd: (Singing in foreign language)

MCEVERS: In Baghdad, protesters recently carried posters showing a finger marked with ink that signifies an Iraqi has voted. Now that finger is being bitten by a set of teeth.

That's the protesters' main message here in Iraq, so far. We don't want to change the regime. We just want our elected officials to do better. Yet officials still seem unnerved. Last week, state TV launched a campaign suggesting protesters are loyalists of Saddam Hussein, or worse, terrorists. Journalists and intellectuals have been detained, interrogated, and beaten.

Your leg is really swollen. So swollen. What happened?

Mr. HADI AL MAHDI: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Hadi al Mahdi runs a popular radio show that's long been critical of the government. He recently encouraged his 6,000 Facebook followers to protest against corruption. A few days ago, he was eating lunch with other journalists when soldiers pulled up, blindfolded them, and whisked them away. Mahdi was beaten in the leg, eyes, and head. A soldier tried to get him to admit he was being paid to topple the regime.

Mr. AL MAHDI: (Through translator) I replied, I told the guy who was investigating me, I'm pretty sure that your brother is unemployed, and the street in your area is unpaved, and you know that this political regime is a very corrupt one.

MCEVERS: Mahdi was later put in a room with what he says were about 200 detainees, some of them journalists and intellectuals, many of them young protesters.

Mr. MAHDI: (Through translator) I started hearing voices of other people. So, for instance, one guy was crying, another was saying, where's my brother? And a third one was saying, for the sake of god, help me.

MCEVERS: Mahdi was shown lists of names and asked to reveal people's addresses. He was forced to sign documents while blindfolded. Eventually he was released.

Mahdi says the experience was worse than the times he was detained under Saddam Hussein. He says the regime that's taken Saddam's place is no improvement on the past. This, he says, should serve as a cautionary tale for other Arab countries trying to oust their dictators.

Mr. MAHDI: (Through translator) They toppled the regime, but they brought the worst - they brought a bunch of thieves, thugs, killers, and corrupt people, stealers.

MCEVERS: Mahdi says he's been to countries in the region that still have dictators. Friends tell him, we'd rather keep what we have than get what you've got.

Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Baghdad.

(Soundbite of music)

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