BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Two people were killed and 47 wounded during a protest in the northern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniya Thursday, sources said, as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called for demonstrations to be kept peaceful.
Protests also hit the southern city of Kut, the oil hub of Basra, the northern oil city of Kirkuk and other towns — the latest in a series of demonstrations against local governments and demanding an end to food and power shortages.
Unlike anti-government uprisings in other parts of the Middle East, the Iraqi protesters usually have not demanded the overthrow of their government — an elected one formed less than two months ago. But some have voiced direct anger at Maliki.
“The demonstrations are protected and here I say that the security forces are not allowed to use any force against any demonstrations,” Maliki said at a news conference in Baghdad.
“I say to the protesters, this is your right, (but) without violence,” he said. “Don’t allow troublemakers to incite problems and burn offices because this is sabotage and corruption.”
In Sulaimaniya, witnesses said clashes occurred when about 1,000 protesters looking to oust the local government and demanding better basic services threw stones at the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, headed by Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region.
“This is Tahrir Square. Do you remember Mubarak?” protesters chanted, referring to the Egyptian uprising.
Witnesses said security guards at the party headquarters fired shots in response to the stone-throwing. A police source and a medical source said two people died and 47 others were wounded. It was not clear how the deaths and injuries occurred.
In Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, fire damaged the offices of a KDP rival, the Goran political party, according to a party official.
In the southern city of Kut, a second day of unrest brought some 700 people to the local government building, where clashes Wednesday killed three people and wounded 59 during one of the largest and most violent of the recent protests.
Protesters erected tents and said they would camp out.
“We will maintain our sit-in in this square until our demands are met,” said Mohammed Halloul, 50.
Calling for the resignation of the provincial governor, demonstrators brought mattresses, blankets, water and other supplies to spend the night. A donkey with “the governor” spray-painted on its side appeared in the square.
Many protests have decried the lack of reliable electricity. Maliki said the government was making headway.
“It is a matter of time, which doesn’t exceed between 12 and 15 months, and the electricity crisis will end, totally,” he said. “Therefore I call upon citizens to cooperate and understand this issue.
“Most of the demands people are making are legitimate.”
In Basra, a hub for foreign oil companies working to increase production from Iraq’s rich oil fields, about 250 residents held a peaceful rally demanding jobs.
In Kirkuk, about 100 vendors protested a government decision to remove them from a bridge where they sold their wares.
In the southern town of Nassir, a small group of protesters set fires in a government building, a witness said.
Reporting by Jaafar al-Taie in Kut, Aref Mohammed in Basra, Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk, Shamal Aqrawi in Arbil and Suadad al-Salhy in Baghdad; writing by Jim Loney; editing by Andrew Roche