March 19 - Followers of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demonstrate for better living conditions in Iraq's southern city of Basra on the anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion. Travis Brecher reports.
Tens of thousands of followers of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr take to the streets of Iraq's southern city of Basra. On the anniversary of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, they're calling on the government to provide better living conditions for Iraqis. Some demonstrators wave brooms and shovels symbolically asking for jobs. Iraq suffers from high rates of unemployment, after nine years of war cost tens of thousands of lives and left the country grappling with political uncertainty. The official unemployment rate sits at 15 percent, although the actual figure is believed to be around 30 percent. Around 60 percent of Iraqis rely on a government food programme. Iraq's five-year economic development plan, which aims to create 3 to 4 million jobs by 2014, has done little to ease concerns. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) MAN FROM SADR CITY IN BAGHDAD, MUTASHAR SAEED, HOLDING AN EMPTY PLATE "People are suffering from hunger, no food rations and no good services. The MPs are worrying about their positions. They (the government) are not taking care of the people, of the poor who have no food and drink. A bag of flour is 28.000 ($20). God can't accept this. The poor are suffering too much." Sadr's Mehdi Army controlled much of Baghdad and southern Iraq until they were largely defeated by Iraqi and U.S. troops in 2008. Sadr disbanded most of the Mehdi Army and joined mainstream politics, and his followers are now part of the governing power-sharing coalition. Travis Brecher, Reuters