Unrest spreads in Iraq

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq — Kurdish security guards opened fire 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.

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq — Kurdish security guards opened fire 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-Qaida, 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 authorized to brief the media.

An Associated Press reporter saw one teenager shot in the head and being carried away by policemen on the street trying to help the protesters.

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 authorized 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 kilometres) 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 per cent and rampant corruption.

Security is also a top concern.

Eight people died and 30 others were injured in a car bombing in Muqdadiyah in Diyala province, north of the capital, said the spokesman for the provincial health office, Faris al-Azawi.

Iraqi leaders have sought to mute Iraqis’ anger by granting concessions like cutting electricity tariffs and diverting money to buy jet fighters to food for the needy. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed to serve only two terms, to distance himself from the authoritarian rulers dominating the rest of the region.

Al-Maliki said policemen should not use force against protesters and said many of their demands were legitimate. But he said 20 people involved in the protests had been arrested and that rioters would not be tolerated.

He accused remnants of the outlawed Baath Party that used to rule Iraq under Saddam Hussein, al-Qaida and people who did not do well in last year’s elections with being behind the riots but provided no proof for his accusations. The prime minister often blames the Baath Party and al-Qaida for violence across the country.

Meanwhile, a top ally of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was shot and killed by gunmen on his way home from the holy Shiite city of Karbala, said a member of the Karbala provincial council, Hussein Shadhan al-Aboudi.

Sheik Jassim al-Mutairi used to deliver the Friday sermon in the Sadrist strongholds in eastern Baghdad and Kufa, 100 miles (160 kilometres) south of Baghdad.

——

Associated Press staffers Sinan Salaheddin and Saad Abdul-Kadir in Baghdad, Nabil al-Jurani in Basra, Hadi Mizban in Kut and Sameer N. Yacoub in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.

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