ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Rioters burned dozens of alcohol shops and damaged several hotels in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region after Friday prayers, prompting an attack a pro-Islamic party office, authorities and witnesses said Saturday.
Iraq’s Kurdistan in the north of the country has enjoyed more stability and security since becoming largely autonomous in 1991, and has been governed by two ruling parties who have shared power since Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003.
After Friday prayers, during which one religious leader criticized the sale of alcohol, protesters burned more than 30 liquor shops and bars and damaged three hotels in Zakho, 440 km (275 miles) north of Bagdad, officials and witnesses said.
“Dozens of people came out after Friday prayers and burned alcohol stores,” one eyewitness said.
Fahad Mulla Saleh, a member of the Kurdish Islamic Union, said the party’s headquarters had been attacked after the riots. But his party denied any responsibility for the attacks on stores in Zakho.
Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani in a statement condemned the attacks, which he said appeared to have been triggered by religious leaders.
Kurdistan has enjoyed investment and growth even as the rest of Iraq still struggles with power shortages and the stubborn violence from Sunni Islamist insurgents and Shi‘ite militias more than eight years after the U.S. invasion.
But many Kurdistan residents say they have seen little of the region’s new wealth, complaining the two ruling parties have concentrated power in their hands. Two months of protests earlier this year demanded the two parties loosen their grip.
Reporting by Baghdad newsroom; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Sophie Hares