SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq — Around 2,000 university students were demonstrating on Saturday in north Iraq, demanding an apology from regional president Massud Barzani after protests earlier in the week left two dead.
The rally in Sulaimaniyah, along with another protest in the same city and others in Baghdad, were the latest in a string of nationwide demonstrations that have drawn thousands out to denounce high level corruption, unemployment and poor basic services.
“The authorities in the region do not understand what democracy means,” said Frishta Karim, a 21-year-old student of Sulaimaniyah University. “We firmly reject the use of weapons against demonstrators.”
Police at the rally refused to allow the protesters to exit the university campus, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.
One banner in Saturday’s demonstration called on Barzani, whose Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is the dominant political force in the region, “to apologise to the people of Sulaimaniyah for his guards’ shootings.”
On Thursday, two young men were killed and 54 others were wounded when KDP guards fired into the air in an attempt to stop protesters from reaching KDP’s headquarters in Sulaimaniyah, the autonomous Kurdish region’s second city.
Around 1,000 people were also at Sulaimaniyah’s main square on Saturday demanding the release of individuals arrested in connection with Thursday’s rally, and the prosecution of the head of the city’s KDP office who, the protesters claimed, gave the order for security to open fire.
Barzani has called for a full investigation into the incident.
Immediately after Thursday’s protests, looters attacked the offices of opposition movement Goran in Arbil and Dohuk provinces, which along with Sulaimaniyah make up the Kurdish region.
Goran denied it was part of the Thursday demonstration, and party officials have claimed that the looters were KDP loyalists.
An incident in the national parliament on Saturday highlighted the differences between the two sides.
Goran’s parliamentary leader Shoresh Hadji claimed in the Council of Representatives that KDP guards had fired on peaceful demonstrators, but he was interrupted by KDP representative Ashwaq al-Jaff, who shouted back: “That’s not true! It was the demonstrators who attacked the KDP and not the opposite!”
Meanwhile, in west Baghdad, several hundred orphans and widows demonstrated to call for better compensation for the families of victims of violence, levels of which remain high by international standards despite having fallen from a peak in 2006 and 2007.
According to the United Nations, Baghdad alone is home to around 336,000 orphans and 871,000 female-headed households, the majority as a result of husbands having been killed.