BAGHDAD  - Dozens of Iraqis demonstrated for reforms in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on Friday, the eve of the first anniversary of mass protests in which 16 people were killed across the country.

Security forces had a heavy presence in the square, with soldiers armed with wooden clubs, pistols and assault rifles surrounding the area where the demonstrators were gathered.

Groups of policemen with Kalashnikov rifles were also deployed, as were various army and police vehicles mounted with machineguns. “The demonstration is to remind the government that the February Youth (protesters) and the youth of Tahrir Square still continue to protest as long as there are demands that are not realised,” said Muayid al-Tayyeb, who led chants at the protest. “A year has passed since the protests and the government has not made any effort to realise the demands of the protesters,” he said. The demonstrators’ requests include improvements in services such as electricity and fighting corruption, Tayyeb said.

“But when the government faced these demands with repression, our request became new elections.” He said the demonstration began about 10:00 am (0700 GMT). It wound down around noon. On February 25 last year, 16 people died and more than 130 were wounded in clashes with police during demonstrations across Iraq. Two days later, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki gave his cabinet 100 days to improve the delivery of services to Iraq’s people or face “changes,” but no one was ever fired.

In January, Human Rights Watch said Iraq is falling back into authoritarianism and headed towards becoming a police state. “Iraq cracked down harshly during 2011 on freedom of expression and assembly by intimidating, beating and detaining activists, demonstrators and journalists,” HRW said. “Iraq is quickly slipping back into authoritarianism as its security forces abuse protesters, harass journalists and torture detainees,” Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director, said in the statement. Al-Qaeda’s front group in Iraq said on Friday that it carried out a wave of bombing and shooting attacks across the country that killed 42 people.

The group said Thursday’s attacks, which hit six different provinces and left more than 250 people wounded, targeted security forces in response to “torture and killings against Sunnis”.

“The government of the Green Zone ignored warnings to stop the torture and killings against Sunnis, and they did not show any readiness to respond to these warnings,” the statement posted on a jihadist forum said, in a derisive reference to the heavily fortified area where the Iraqi government is based.

“In response to these crimes, the ministry of war of the Islamic State of Iraq launched a new wave of invasions through its security apparatus. “These operations took place simultaneously against targets chosen with precision, including security headquarters and military patrols which are part of the Safavid project.” Sunni insurgents often invoke Iran’s Safavid past, referring to the Shiite dynasty that ruled Persia between the 16th and 18th centuries and conquered part of Iraq, when denouncing the Baghdad government, which they say is controlled by Iran.