Iraq's Prime Minister Faces Intense Pressure To Resign
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Protests in Iraq are taking on an organized, even a festive feel with staging stations, banners and flags. After weeks of protests and some violence, the prime minister is under intense pressure to resign. He may be on the verge of doing just that, but that is far from the only demand that protesters have.
For more, we're joined now by NPR's Jane Arraf in Baghdad. Hey, Jane.
JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi.
CHANG: So I understand you've been out in the middle of these protests. Can you just give us a sense of what it's been like out there?
ARRAF: Yeah. So all the other protests I've been to, it's been mostly young men. But tonight, it was different. Let's just listen to a little bit of what it sounded like.
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ARRAF: So there were groups of women. There were fighters from Shia militias. There were high school and university students who've been skipping classes to protest. I walked behind one guy who had on a construction helmet, flag around his shoulders, and he was carrying a frying pan. He said it was to catch tear gas canisters and throw them back at riot police.
ARRAF: Protesters - yeah, they've actually taken over buildings. They took over this really tall building, and they've unfurled banners. They're waving flags. It kind of has the feel of, like, a giant house party, and their house, they say, is Iraq.
CHANG: It sounds like there has been this wide range of different protesters, but are they all wanting the same thing? Are their demands similar?
ARRAF: They pretty much are. I was on the sidewalk watching protesters set off fireworks where I met Hala Chalabi and her three daughters. Two of them are in university and the other's still in high school. Chalabi told me they expected things to be different after the U.S. invaded and toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.
HALA CHALABI: You know, 16 years, there is nothing good. Nothing happened very good for the people. Everything is bad. Killing, stealing - it's about all the government. They are - all of them are bad and the same thing. No one thinks about the Iraqi people, what they want, what they dream. We have no dreams - you know? - no dreams.
ARRAF: So this is a middle-class widow. And she said she was upset when one of her daughters went to the protest without telling her. But then she went to see for herself, and she took her other daughters, and she says they don't mind the danger.
CHANG: You mention at times it seems like a house party out there, but there has been violence. The government forces opened fire on protesters, killing people. Has any of that let up?
ARRAF: Yeah, that death toll has actually gone up to almost 200 people, and a lot of that has been not just in Baghdad but in the south, which is traditionally calm. So security forces early on fired live fire. Now people are being killed by tear gas canisters. But the government is under a lot of pressure to not use live fire, and that's stopped for the most part.
CHANG: So where do things go from here? I mean, what's your sense?
ARRAF: The prime minister's expected to resign any time now, but that's actually not the change that protesters are looking for. They want total change. They want a new system of government. They want everything they were promised since 2003 - jobs, freedom, dignity. And a change in prime minister isn't going to do that.
CHANG: That's NPR's Jane Arraf in Baghdad. Thanks so much, Jane.
ARRAF: Thank you.
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