BAGHDAD (Dispatches) – Iraqi protesters rallied and many schools stayed closed Tuesday as the United Nations stepped up pressure on the government to agree to a raft of reforms.
While security forces again faced off with activists around Baghdad’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square, teachers and students went on strike across much of the south.
The UN has proposed a reform plan that demands an immediate end to the violence that has killed more than 300 people since the start of October, as well as a host of reform measures.
The UN’s top Iraq representative, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, met with Iraq’s top religious authority on Monday.
Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has backed the UN plan but said he feared political forces were not "serious” about enacting the required reforms.
Hennis-Plasschaert was due to attend a special parliamentary session this week in Baghdad, where demonstrators appeared bolstered by her visit.
"We’re optimistic about the UN and I respect her visit to Sistani,” said one demonstrator, Ali Kadhem, 33, at the main protest site of Tahrir Square.
"Let them intervene more in Iraq. We want them here. Our people were starved, killed. We’ve been through everything.”
"Our country is dearer to me than my only child,” read one slogan daubed on a street nearby, where the usually bustling mechanics’ shops remained closed amid the unrest.
Across the country’s south, meanwhile, most schools were shut as teachers and students rallied.
Schools closed in the towns of Hillah and Kut, where hundreds hit the streets, and in the protest hotspots of Nasiriyah and Diwaniyah.
Young people make up 60 percent of Iraq’s population of nearly 40 million, and youth unemployment stands at 25 percent, according to the World Bank.
The lack of employment is a key driving force behind the popular ange.