Protesters say Maliki is using special security forces to shut down demonstrations
Among the revolts sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, Iraq's has been an exception: Here, protesters are seeking to reform a democratically elected government, not to topple an autocrat. But protesters, human rights workers and security officials say the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has responded to Iraq's demonstrations in much the same way as many of its more authoritarian neighbors: with force. Witnesses in Baghdad and as far north as Kirkuk described watching last week as security forces in black uniforms, tracksuits and T-shirts roared up in trucks and Humvees, attacked protesters, rounded up others from cafes and homes and hauled them off, blindfolded, to army detention centers. Entire neighborhoods - primarily Sunni Muslim areas where residents are generally opposed to Maliki, a Shiite - were blockaded to prevent residents from joining the demonstrations. Journalists were beaten. In most cases, regular soldiers and police officers simply stood aside, with one saying the matter was "beyond us." In all, 29 people were killed.