Kurdish guards fire on protest in Iraq, killing 2

It seems war-weary Iraq cannot escape the unrest roiling the Middle East.

Updated: Feb 18, 2011, 11:44 AM IST

Sulaimaniyah: Kurdish security guards opened fire on Thursday on a crowd of protesters calling for political reforms in northern Iraq, killing at least two people, officials said, showing even war-weary Iraq cannot escape the unrest roiling the Middle East.

Separately, a car bomb killed eight people and wounded 30 others in Muqdadiyah, 60 miles (90 kilometres) north of Baghdad, an official said. The area was once one of the strongholds of al Qaeda, and insurgents there stage frequent attacks despite improved security in much of the country.

The demonstration in Sulaimaniyah was the most violent in a wave of protests that extended to the southern cities of Kut, Nasir and Basra. Iraq has seen small-scale demonstrations almost daily in recent weeks, mainly centred in the impoverished southern provinces and staged by Iraqis angry over a lack of basic services like electricity and clean drinking water.

The hundreds of Kurdish protesters in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles (260 kilometres) northeast of Baghdad, Thursday, demanded political reforms from the regional government in the semiautonomous territory.

Although Kurds generally enjoy a higher standard of living than the rest of Iraq, many are tired of the tight grip with which the ruling parties control the region and the economy.

The protesters moved to the headquarters of Kurdish President Massoud Barzani`s political party, where some demonstrators threw stones at the building.

Kurdish security guards on the roof then opened fire, sending people fleeing for cover.

A local police official and a hospital official said two people were killed, and the medical official said 47 people were injured. Both said the deaths and injuries were the result of shootings. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief the media.

In the southern city of Basra, about 600 people gathered in front of the provincial headquarters, facing off against police protecting the building. Witnesses said the protest was largely peaceful.

"We are demanding that the Basra governor be fired because he has not done anything good for Basra," said Mohammed Ali Jasim, a 50-year-old father of nine at the protest in Iraq`s second-largest city.

Dozens of angry protesters also stormed the municipal building and set it on fire in the small town of Nasir, 170 miles (270 kilometres) south of Baghdad, said a police official in the provincial capital of Nasiriyah. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Five policemen were wounded after protesters hurled stones at the building and five protesters were arrested before a curfew was imposed, the officer said.

Demonstrators in the southern city of Kut, 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, gathered for a second day in front of the governor`s office, demanding his resignation over corruption allegations.

The demonstrators decorated a donkey with a sign reading "governor" and began to hit the animal with their shoes — a grave insult in the Arab world.

In Kirkuk, 180 miles (290 kilometres) north of Baghdad, more than 100 widows and orphans demonstrated near the governor`s office, demanding aid.

Iraq is one of the few countries with a democratically elected government in the Middle East, but Iraqis have a long list of grievances, including electricity that sometimes works only a few hours a day, unemployment that runs as high as 30 percent and rampant corruption.

Security is also a top concern.

Bureau Report