Protests in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah turned violent on Thursday once the main demonstration by hundreds of youths asking the government for jobs and outraged by corruption was dispersed by the organizers.
The prime minister of the Kurdish Regional Government, Dr. Barham Salih, was on the phone with leaders of several opposition parties as the demonstrators converged on a government building in the downtown area, asking them to control their members. He pledged that security forces would not use force against peaceful protesters.
Newsmax was interviewing the prime minister in his private residence when he received the first phone calls informing him of the protests. He immediately began phoning to security chiefs, political leaders, and members of his government on the ground to ensure that the situation remains peaceful.
Prime Minister Salih recognized immediately the importance of what was happening, and emphasized from the start that he did not want the security forces to overreact. He also phoned the heads of the opposition parties to get their support in keeping the demonstrators peaceful.
The leaders of the two main opposition groups in Iraqi Kurdistan, Goran and the Kurdistan Islamic Party, told the prime minister they were not backing the protests, although both groups have called for greater government action in favor of the unemployed.
Prime Minister Salih made ending the patronage system of awarding government jobs, long a feature of the KRG, a main plank of his election platform when he came to power in October 2009, and has taken several steps to institute merit-based hiring in the universities.
Once the main protests dispersed, another group of protesters converged on the headquarters of the Kurdish Democratic Party of president Massoud Barzani and belted it with rocks, breaking most of the windows.
It was during the stone attacks that shots first broke out.
Amateur video uploaded to Kurdish Internet sites does not show where the shots came from, but the voices of young American women and a man can be heard, running from the site of the clashes.
Many U.S. government employees live in Sulaymaniyah and work on aid projects.
The KDP said protesters opened fire with pistols and automatic weapons, and later showed bullet impacts inside their building. Their security guards returned fire, they said.
Preliminary accounts say that one protester was killed and 60 wounded.
The government has established a commission of inquiry to determine how the shooting started, but it’s clear at this point that KRG security forces were not involved.
An Iranian opposition source, close to the Kurdish movements in the area, told Newsmax he believed Iranian provocateur agents in the crowd started the shooting, as part of an effort to put pressure on the KRG government to strengthen its ties with Tehran.
A top adviser to the prime minister said no one yet knew where the firing began, but that “anything was possible, including the involvement of agents provocateurs.”
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