- Associated Press - Thursday, February 17, 2011

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq (AP) — Kurdish security guards opened fire on a crowd of protesters calling for political reforms in northern Iraq and killed at least two people, officials said, showing even war-weary Iraq cannot escape the unrest roiling the Middle East.

The protest in Sulaimaniyah was the most violent in a wave of demonstrations that extended to the southern cities of Kut, Nasir and Basra.

Iraq has seen small-scale demonstrations almost daily in recent weeks, mainly centered in the impoverished southern provinces and staged by Iraqis angry over a lack of basic services such as electricity and clean drinking water.

The hundreds of Kurds demonstrating on Thursday in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad, demanded political reforms from the regional government in the semiautonomous territory.

Although Kurds generally enjoy a higher standard of living than the rest of Iraq, many have grown tired of the tight grip with which the ruling parties control the region and the economy.

The protesters moved from the center of the city to the headquarters of Kurdish President Massoud Barzani’s political party, where some protesters threw stones at the building.

Kurdish security guards on the roof then opened fire on the demonstrators, sending people fleeing for cover.

A local police and hospital official both said two people were killed in the incident, and the medical official said 47 people were injured. Both the officials said the deaths and injuries were the result of shootings. Neither wanted to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

An Associated Press reporter on the scene saw one teenager shot in the head and being carried away by policemen on the street who were trying to help the protesters.

In the southern city of Basra, about 600 people gathered in front of the provincial headquarters, facing off against police protecting the building. With the exception of some pushing and shoving, witnesses said the protest was largely peaceful.

“We are demanding that the Basra governor be fired because he has not done anything good for Basra,” said Mohammed Ali Jasim, a 50-year-old father of nine who came out to the protest in Iraq’s second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Dozens of angry protesters also stormed the municipal building and set it on fire in the small town of Nasir, some 170 miles south of Baghdad, a police official in the nearby provincial capital of Nasiriyah said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Five policemen were wounded after protesters hurled stones at the building, and five protesters were arrested before a curfew was imposed on the town, the officer said.

A day earlier in the city of Kut, about 2,000 stone-throwing demonstrators attacked local government offices, setting fire to some buildings, including the governor’s house. Kut is 100 miles southeast of Baghdad.

The spokeswoman for Wasit province, Sondos al-Dahabi, said Thursday that three demonstrators were shot and killed, while the top health official for the province, Diaa al-Aboudi, said he was only aware of one fatality, an Iraqi soldier.

Iraq is one of the few countries with a democratically elected government in the Middle East, but leaders here have not been immune from the anger engulfing the region. Iraqis have a long list of grievances against their leaders, including electricity that sometimes works only a few hours a day, unemployment that runs as high as 30 percent and rampant corruption.