Thousands protest in northern Iraq over shooting
SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq – Demonstrators thronged streets in northern Iraq Saturday to demand justice over a deadly shooting at a protest earlier this week. In Baghdad, hundreds of orphans and widows rallied to call on the government to take care of them.
The uprisings sweeping the Middle East have galvanized many in Iraq, one of the rare democracies in the region, to demand better services from their leaders. The demonstrations in the capital and the northern city of Sulaimaniyah were peaceful, but five protesters were killed earlier this week.
A few thousand demonstrators took to the streets in downtown Sulaimaniyah, demanding that those responsible for a shooting two days earlier that killed two people and injured nearly 50 be held responsible.
The crowds shouted: "Down, down, with Massoud Barzani!" referring to the president of the three provinces that make up the autonomous Kurdish region.
On Thursday, hundreds of protesters had demonstrated in front of the offices of Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party in Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles (260 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad. They pelted the building with stones, and Kurdish guards on top of the building opened fire.
Officials from the KDP say their guards were forced to defend themselves from the crowd; Barzani has appealed for calm and vowed to investigate.
The demonstrators were angry with the tight grip with which the two main ruling parties in the Kurdish north dominate the region and its economy, making it almost impossible for people not affiliated with either one to find a decent job or start a business.
Saturday's rally was largely peaceful, but at one point security forces fired shots overhead to disperse the crowd; an official at the hospital said 12 people were treated after being hit by stones, indicating some scuffling had gone on. The official did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Earlier at the city's university, about a 1,000 students also rallied to demand Barzani apologize.
The controversy extended to parliament in Baghdad where lawmakers loyal to Barzani got in a shouting match with a representative from Goran, an upstart political movement in the Kurdish region that is trying to challenge the grip of the two main Kurdish political parties on the levers of power.
As the Goran member was describing how the protesters were not armed and carrying out a peaceful protest, a Kurdish lawmaker shouted: "This not true!"
About 1,500 people rallied in Baghdad in a demonstration organized by non-governmental organizations looking to highlight the plight of some of Iraq's most vulnerable citizens.
The hundreds of thousands of women who lost their husbands in wars over the decades or children who have lost parents are particularly vulnerable.
One of those in attendance was 9-year-old Ahmed Nasir, who lost his father in 2006 in a roadside bombing in western Baghdad.
"We have seven children at home," he said. "My mother takes care of us by sewing clothes, and we have no salary."
In a statement, the organizations behind the demonstration said they want the government to give each orphan a monthly stipend.
Associated Press writer Saad Abdul-Kadir contributed to this report from Baghdad.