Middle Eastern countries from Bahrain to Yemen to Libya to Iran are engulfed in anti-government protests right now, so on one level it's not surprising that violent clashes are breaking out in the streets of Iraq as well. But after years of violence from the American invasion and the resulting insurgency and ethnic clashes, Iraq has a constitution and a parliament elected by its citizens.

Nevertheless, streets protests have erupted this week in the Iraqi cities of Kut, Sulaimaniya, Falluja, and Basra, and in total, four deaths and more than 80 injuries have been reported. By and large, the protesters' grievances appear to be local or provincial in nature--they're not calling for the overthrow of the government, as in many other nations, but for the removal of specific politicians seen as corrupt or ineffective. Demonstrators in Kut are calling for the removal of the provincial governor; The New York Times reports that a crowd of hundreds set fire to the governor's home and offices on Wednesday. A day later, police opened fire on a crowd that gathered outside the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and began to throw stones at the building.

None of these incidents have strengthened public confidence in the Iraqi government. The Washington Post quotes the political analyst Ibrahim Sumaiedi, who calls the outbreaks of violence "very, very dangerous ... Society is divided along ethnic and sectarian lines, and everyone is armed. If this happens in other cities in Iraq, we will face not reform or change but something far more devastating, because there are a lot of weapons in Iraq." Wayne White, a scholar at the Middle East Institute, has said that the "almost panicked response" of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "demonstrates the extent to which he feels insecure" in his office.