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Iraq attempts to defuse huge protest planned for Friday

Iraqi officials warned that the protest, which organizers hope will draw 1 million people, could turn violent in what was widely seen as an attempt to limit turnout.

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Iraqi security forces stand guard while protesters chant antigovernment slogans during a protest in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Feb. 23. Protesters gathered in central Baghdad to demand a crackdown on corruption, better government services, and an end to repression.

Khalid Mohammed/AP

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Iraqi security forces blanketed the streets of Iraq's capital on Wednesday, as officials used tactics including media intimidation and warnings of violence in an apparent attempt to defuse a major demonstration planned for Friday.

An Iraqi organization that monitors press freedom said uniformed Iraqi Army soldiers raided their offices early Wednesday, removing computers and files about attacks on journalists in what it called an attempt to intimidate the Iraqi media ahead of the protest.

Organizers from a cross-section of Iraqi society are calling for a million people to gather in Baghdad to demand a crackdown on corruption, better government services, and an end to repression.

Iraqi officials say they welcome any peaceful protests. But in what was widely seen as an attempt to limit turnout, Baghdad’s security spokesman warned that anyone attending could be in danger.

“We have confirmed intelligence and information about terrorist plans to target the demonstrators in different ways – explosive vests, car bombs, snipers and pistols with silencers,” Gen. Qassim al-Atta told reporters Tuesday evening, in what was widely seen as an attempt to limit turnout.

The only confirmed attacks on demonstrators during daily demonstrations so far have been linked to government security forces, including the stabbing of a several demonstrators in Baghdad on Sunday. Iraqi security officials deny any knowledge of the attack.

A statement by hardline cleric Muqtada al-Sadr advising Iraqis to wait for an assessment of government services is expected to further dampen participation in Friday’s protest.

Laptops, files stolen from press-freedom group

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