Iraqis stockpile food as they gear up for new demos

Baghdad (AFP) –


Scarred by a week of demonstrations, curfews and street closures, Iraqis flocked to supermarkets and petrol stations on Thursday to prepare for the following day's anticipated protests.

A wave of anti-government demonstrations swept Iraq earlier this month, with thousands taking to the streets against rampant corruption, mass unemployment and failing services.

Authorities imposed a curfew in the capital and several southern cities, shut down several key roads and severely restricted internet access.

Demonstrations often devolved into violence, with the government saying more than 150 people were killed between October 1 and 6.

But activists have called for renewed protests this Friday, prompting many to stockpile food, petrol and other supplies.

"People prefer to prepare some supplies in advance in order to be ready for whatever comes," said Abu Hamid, a retired army officer.

The 61-year-old was buying fruits and vegetables in Karrada, a commercial district in central Baghdad.

"We're afraid the roads will be closed, the internet and other communications will be cut, so we're mobilising," said Abu Hamid, who sported an imposing dark moustache.

Protests are expected to resume on Friday, both to mark a year since Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi took power and the deadline set by Iraq's highest Shiite authority for the embattled premier to respond to protester demands.

- Prepared, and scared -

In some neighbourhoods of Baghdad, store shelves were emptied and shopkeepers lowered their curtains for the day, while exchange shops cleared out their registers.

"We even emptied the safes and kept their doors open," one owner said, speaking under condition of anonymity.

"That way, if the situation deteriorates, looters would see that the safes are empty and won't destroy everything."

Even those who were thinking ahead were surprised to see they weren't the only ones.

Taxi driver Rassul headed to a shop on Wednesday to buy cooking gas canisters for his family -- and found a long queue ahead of him.

"We waited for three hours to buy the canisters," he told AFP, his hair slicked back by gel.

"Everybody wants to have enough to hold out for a week if the situation gets worse," said Rassul.

The price of gas canisters doubled in some areas during the earlier protests while everyday staples like tomatoes and eggs also got more expensive.

Petrol has also become a hot commodity, with some stations shuttered completely and others flooded by anxious drivers.

"I waited for an hour and a half on Wednesday to fill up," said Abir, an Arabic language professor who lives in the upmarket Baghdad district of Mansour.

Friday's demonstrations were invariably the talk of the town in Baghdad and elsewhere -- but questions remained over how many would take to the streets this time and what the government response would be.

"We're scared for tomorrow, but we don't even know what we're supposed to be scared of," said Abir.