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Iraqi protesters rally in the rain

From Mohammed Tawfeeq, CNN
An Iraqi woman holds pictures of relatives held in jails during a demonstration calling for their release in Baghdad on Friday.
An Iraqi woman holds pictures of relatives held in jails during a demonstration calling for their release in Baghdad on Friday.
  • Protesters in Baghdad decry corruption, unemployment and the lack of basic services
  • Several protesters demand the release of prison inmates
  • Fifteen inmates were wounded during a prison riot Thursday
  • Protesters also rally in several provinces to the south
  • Baghdad
  • Iraq

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- Throngs of demonstrators protested in the rain Friday, rallying in central Baghdad's Tahrir Square against corruption, unemployment, the lack of basic services and the treatment of prisoners.

Several women also turned out at the square to call on the Iraqi government to release sons and husbands who are in the prison awaiting trial or investigation. Some were carrying photos of their loved ones.

"I demand Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to release my son immediately," one elderly woman was heard shouting. "He has been in prison for months, but faces no charges. Where are human rights organizations? Let them hear my voice."

"Many Iraqis live under very poor conditions inside their homes -- God knows what kind of conditions are inside Iraq's prisons," another woman said.

On Thursday, at least 15 inmates were wounded after a riot broke out at Baghdad's Rasafa prison, Interior Ministry officials told CNN. Dozens of Rasafa inmates had set tents afire in the prison yard to protest against ill treatment, poor conditions inside the prison and the sectarian bias of some wardens in favor of Shiite inmates over Sunnis, officials said.

A fight broke out between Sunni and Shiite inmates and security forces fired live bullets to disperse the masses, wounding 15 prisoners, officials said.

Iraq has often been criticized by human rights groups for its treatment of detainees.

Meanwhile, in Najaf, Diwaniya, Kut and Hilla -- Shiite provinces south of Baghdad -- hundreds of demonstrators railed Friday against unemployment and corruption, police said.

Since early February, tens of thousands of protesters have participated in a series of demonstrations across the country, apparently inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Their protests are against corruption, restrictions on freedom of expression, unemployment and poor government services.

Iraq has seen its own share of clashes over anti-government demonstrations this year. Since February, at least 20 Iraqis have been killed and hundreds have been wounded in protests across the country, part of a series of demonstrations that have swept across the Middle East and parts of Africa this year, toppling the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.

The Iraqi government was formed in December, nine months after an inconclusive national election. This is the second elected government in the nearly eight years since a U.S.-led invasion toppled Hussein.

By the end of 2011, the United States is to have withdrawn all of its troops from Iraq as part of a bilateral agreement with the Baghdad government. It is too soon to predict whether that will happen or whether the United States and Iraq will negotiate an agreement to keep some U.S. soldiers there after year's end.