Iraqi PM Maliki pledges reform after 'Day of Rage'

By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 27, 2011; 12:03 PM

BAGHDAD--In his latest attempt to appease a growing protest movement here, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Sunday he was giving his cabinet 100 days to respond to demands for better government services from electricity to jobs and for an end to corruption.

Maliki has already announced other concessions, saying he would slash his salary by half and pledging not to seek a third term. He has accepted resignations from two provincial governors from his party and on Sunday, he accepted one more.

Demonstrations inspired partly by revolts across the Middle East and North Africa began here earlier this month and culminated Friday in a "Day of Rage" that brought thousands into the streets in at least a dozen protests around the country.

Though organizers say the movement is aimed at reform, there have been signs of revolt: angry crowds have seized provincial offices and burned others, forcing officials around the country to resign, or in some cases, flee.

On Sunday, there were protests in the oil rich southern province of Missan, in which crowds of unemployed men presented demands to the provincial council and attempted to storm the building. Police fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd.

Maliki, whose fragile government is supported by the United States, has had a dual response to the uprisings. On one hand, he has offered concessions and pledges for reform. Maliki said Sunday that following the 100-day period, his ministers would be assessed on their performance and that "changes will be made based on those assessments."

On the other hand, his government has sent security forces into the streets, issued curfews, detained journalists and raided press offices in an attempt to deter the small but growing movement.

At least 29 people were killed during Friday's demonstrations and Sunday, Maliki promised to investigate some of those killings to find out, he said, who started the violence.

Even so, some protest organizers have called for more demonstrations Friday. This time, they are being billed as a "Day of Regret," in reference to elections that brought the current government to power.

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