BAGHDAD – Iraq's government has offered food, financial aid and free flights home to Iraqis who had moved to Egypt to escape civil strife at home, but may now feel threatened by unrest in their host country, officials said Friday.
The Iraqi government has helped some 2,000 Iraqis leave Egypt since the outbreak of a popular uprising against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Jan. 25. Those deciding to stay in Egypt were offered food and financial aid, said Saif Sabah, a spokesman for Iraq's Migration and Displacement Ministry.
While the flights to Iraq are free, the government won't fly Iraqis back to Egypt for free later, Sabah said.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have fled their homeland since the 2003 American-led invasion, and the government since has struggled with trying to persuade them to come home and help rebuild the war-torn nation.
Meanwhile, Iraqis staged protests against corruption and poor services in several areas of the capital of Baghdad on Friday
In Baghdad's famous al-Mutanabi book market, several hundred demonstrators held banners reading, "No to corruption — yes for freedom" and "Our streets are full of mud and your pockets are full of money." Protesters briefly scuffled with troops.
The march then moved into Baghdad's own Tahrir Square — a namesake of Cairo's epicenter of mass protests — where they joined about 300 people chanting against government corruption and Iranian influence over its leaders.
In the capital's Shiite Muslim Sadr City neighborhood, about 2,000 marched through the streets. Some carried empty oil barrels to symbolize the irony of widespread poverty in a country that sits atop one of the world's largest oil reserves.
"We are the country of oil, and there is not one drop available," read one banner, referring to the shortage of fuel for heating homes during the winter.
A leading Shiite Muslim preacher, meanwhile, urged governments to heed protests that have erupted in several areas of the Arab world. Ignoring the demands of protesters "will absolutely lead to unpleasant results," Ahmed al-Safi, a spokesman for Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, told Muslim worshippers during Friday prayers.
Meanwhile, three fighters with a government-backed Sunni Arab militia known as Sons of Iraq were killed Friday in clashes with Shiite Turkomen over disputed lands in Iraq's north, said police Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir. The fighting took place in the town of Taza, in a region that Kurds, Turkomen and Arabs each claim as their own.
Associated Press writers Hamid Ahmed, Saad Abdul-Kadir and Lara Jakes contributed reporting.