Saturday, February 19, 2011

Kurdish guards fire on protest in Iraq, killing 2

By YAHYA BARZANJI, Associated Press Feb 17, 2011

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 kilometers) 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 centered 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 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad, Thursday, demanded
political reforms from the regional government in the semiautonomous

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

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

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 kilometers) 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

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

In Kirkuk, 180 miles (290 kilometers) 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.

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

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