ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Three people were killed in a third day of violent unrest in Iraq’s Kurdistan region on Saturday, as protesters attacked or torched several offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Sulaimaniyah province.
The protests, the most serious the region has seen for years, began on Oct. 1 as a show of public anger over an economic crisis that many blame on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), in which the KDP and other parties are partners.
But on Friday the demonstrations took a partisan turn when protesters in the city of Qaladize attacked a KDP office.
A total of five people have now been killed in the protests, which threaten to destabilize the region at a time when it is at war with Islamic State militants.
In a statement responding to the events, the KDP blamed the leader of the Gorran party for the violence and said it would not rule out any option regarding the agreements that led to the formation of the KRG.
In the town of Kalar, two people died of gunshot wounds after protesters set upon a KDP office there, according to a doctor at the local hospital and a Kurdish security source.
One person was burned to death when protesters in the town of Qaladize set another KDP office ablaze, said Osman Ali, the deputy director of the local hospital.
Another KDP office in the town of Said Sadiq also came under attack from protesters hurling stones. Live footage broadcast on the Kurdish television channel NRT showed riot police holding back protesters, some of whom were wielding slingshots.
In the city of Sulaimaniyah, capital of the province, protesters set upon the office of the media network Rudaw, which is seen as close to the KDP.
The pattern of unrest reflects deep political divisions between the region’s two distinct zones of influence.
Sulaimaniyah is controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Gorran, which are locked in a power struggle with the KDP over the region’s presidency.
The KDP leadership said the PUK had failed to protect its offices, but urged its own followers to exercise restraint.
In Erbil and Duhok provinces, where the KDP dominates, security was heightened around PUK and Gorran offices to avert any retaliatory attacks.
Deadlock over Massoud Barzani’s presidency, which expired on Aug. 20, has not only polarized Kurdish politics but also compounded the economic crisis, which began in early 2014 when Baghdad slashed funds to the region. A plunge in oil prices has pushed the region further towards bankruptcy.
Reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Kevin Liffey