Hundreds protest in southern Iraqi city
Baghdad: Hundreds of Iraqi demonstrators massed in the southern city of Basra on Thursday to demand the ouster of the local governor, a day after a similar anti-government protest sparked violence that killed three people.
Thursday's demonstration by people demanding better services, an end to corruption and more jobs is the latest outburst to hit Iraq in the wake of the regional upheaval that started in Tunisia and is now sweeping the Middle East.
About 600 people gathered in front of the Basra provincial headquarters, facing off against police protecting the building. With the exception of some pushing and shoving between protesters and police, witnesses said the protest was largely peaceful.
Such small-scale demonstrations have happened almost daily across the impoverished southern Iraqi provinces by frustrated young Iraqis who enjoy political freedom but little economic success.
A day earlier in the city of Kut, about 2,000 stone-throwing demonstrators attacked local government offices, setting fire to some buildings, including the governor's house. Kut is 100 miles (160 kilometres) southeast of Baghdad.
Witnesses said Iraqi police and soldiers shot at demonstrators who pelted the offices with stones and commandeered military vehicles. The spokeswoman for Wasit province, Sondos al-Dahabi, said on Thursday that three demonstrators were shot and killed. Al-Dahabi put the number of the wounded at 30, including 15 policemen.
The top health official for the province, Diaa al-Aboudi, said he was only aware of one fatality, an Iraqi soldier. Fifty-five people were injured, he said. Some were shot while others were hit by stones thrown by demonstrators or burned in the melee.
Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the immediate aftermath of events in Iraq.
Provincial authorities held an emergency meeting to discuss protesters' demands, al-Dahabi said. The authorities also lifted a curfew imposed on Wednesday.
Iraq is one of the few countries with a democratically elected government in the Middle East but leaders here have not been immune from the anger engulfing the region. Iraqis have a long list of grievances against their leaders, including electricity that sometimes works only a few hours a day, unemployment that runs as high as 30 percent and rampant corruption.
As security has improved, attention has turned to quality of life and economic issues instead.
Meanwhile, gunmen in a speeding car shot and killed a local official in the northern city of Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometres) northwest of Baghdad, police said.
Hilal al-Ahmadi, 50, was the spokesman of the provincial post and communication office, a police officer said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to release information.