Iraqi Police Open Fire on Protesters, 3 Hurt

Security forces in northern Iraq opened fire Sunday to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who burned tires and blocked roads to protest high fuel cost and poor living conditions. Three people were injured, they said.

People blocked roads with rocks and burning objects on the outskirts of Chamchamal town, and tried to set fire to a gasoline station but were stopped by security forces who opened fire, said Lt. Col. Ahmed Nadir, the head of the town's security. He said three people were injured in the firing.

"In the beginning, the demonstration was peaceful but later some people threw stones, burned tires and attacked shops," he said.

Witnesses said the demonstrators were demanding improved services in the town, easing of fuel shortages and better power supply, which they said was limited to only three hours a day.

"We need more fuel, we need more power. I demand that the regional government take care of our city," said Moghmmed Salih, a student who took part in the demonstration.

Chamchamal is about 30 miles south of Sulaimaniyah in Iraq's northern Kurdish region.

After years of neglect during U.N. sanctions after the 1991 Gulf War, the country's creaky infrastructure has crumbled further in the last three years since the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

Although a major producer of oil, fuel is rationed because of inadequate supply lines. Gasoline is officially priced at 25 U.S. cents a liter but it takes hours of waiting in the queue to fill up at gasoline outlets. In the black-market, gasoline costs 70 U.S. cents per liter.

"This is too much. We demand the regional government improve the services in Chamchamal," said Ahmed Mohammed, an 18-year-old taxi driver "This is not the first time that we have complained. We started more than a year ago but there is no solution," he said.