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    Iraqis rally to demand restoration of public services

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    Baghdad, August 8 (RIA Novosti, Pavel Davydov, Yasin Abbas) - Rallies were held across Iraq over the weekend to demand the restoration of basic public services, including steady food, water and electricity supplies.

    Local and pan-Arab news media reported on just one of Sunday's demonstrations, in the southern city of Samawa. But according to sources in the national security forces, thousands of disgruntled Iraqis took to the streets in Najaf, Kerbala and Ramadi, as well.

    With the temperatures in Iraq now running as high as 45 degrees Celsius, inhabitants of the country's urban areas get electricity for just a couple of hours a day, so they buy ice blocks from street vendors to be able to survive the heat and prevent their food stocks from perishing. The brisk demand for ice has led to a tenfold price increase across the nation and a 25-fold increase in southern cities like Amara and Basra.

    The distribution of food rations under the UN's Oil-for-Food program, providing Iraqi households with basic staples such as flour, sugar and margarine, has been suspended for four months now as local authorities cannot ensure the security of delivery personnel.

    "Out of the 25 million Iraqis, nine million are fully dependent on food rations," said Houmam al-Shamma, an Iraqi economist and a professor at Baghdad University. "All of them are now living beyond the poverty line." One of his recent surveys indicates that living standards in Iraq have deteriorated dramatically since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Al-Shamma blames soaring prices, massive unemployment, the collapse of public services, and security problems.

    The country's Shiites are becoming as vocal in criticizing authorities as the Sunnis. Just one indication is that three of the four cities where protests were held Sunday have predominantly Shiite populations.

    "To have Saddam Hussein back in power would be better than carry on living like this," said Abu Hussein, a taxi driver from Baghdad's Shiite community. "There's no electricity, no gas, it's impossible to get through the city as all major streets are closed to traffic. There's the Green Zone in western Baghdad and in the east, there's the Abdel Aziz al-Khakim party's headquarters, the residence of [Iraqi President] Jalal Talabani, the Interior Ministry and Allah knows what else."

    But Hussein doubts that Baghdad's authorities will be able to solve security problems by barring traffic off the city center. "Most of the metropolitan police recruits are untrained, inexperienced youths. When insurgents open fire in broad daylight, they just run away in panic. But they could shoot one of us out of fear," he said.

    Like most of his fellow countrymen, Abu Hussein does not think the overall situation in Iraq is likely to change for the better any time soon. "It'll only be getting worse," he predicted.

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