Five protesters killed in Iraqi Kurdistan
Violence escalates as demonstrators call for an end to government corruption
Five protesters were killed on Tuesday in Iraqi Kurdistan after security forces opened fire at a demonstration, local media say.
Peshmerga were sent to the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah to quell anti-government protests that raged for a second day. But despite their efforts, demonstrators stormed a Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) office and civilians were wounded.
"Protesters were initially shouting slogans... but in the afternoon it became violent," freelance journalist Fazel Hawrami said.
"Protesters started throwing stones and police used tear gas. People shut the doors of their shops and just left. There were probably five to 600 policemen," Hawrami said, adding that about three dozen protesters were injured.
"I saw just one injury, someone was punched by one of security officers in the face and blood was pouring from his nose."
Protesters are calling for an end to government corruption, also citing failure to pay civil servants and provide reliable electricity as reasons for the demonstrations.
Growing discontent in Kurdistan has been a long time coming and increased after September's independence referendum which resulted in sweeping reprisals from central government in Baghdad and dealt a blow to the autonomous region's ailing economy.
"The economic situation has really deteriorated over the last three, four years," said Middle East analyst Shivan Fazil. "In the last three years, we still had angry calls for reform and improvement of services and infrastructure, but they were mindful enough of the situation that Kurdistan was going through," Mr Fazil said, in reference to the Kurds' role in the battle against ISIL.
Kurds have suffered the brunt of the financial crisis and most civil servants have not received their salary. Many, said Mr Fazil, were pushed to sell their belongings.
"Now that the war is over, the referendum is over... nothing has changed or improved. That is the difference," he said.
Security forces fired in the air to disperse demonstrators marching on the central Saray Square, AFP reported. Roadblocks sprang up across the city on major roads and around the offices of the main political parties.
Protests were also held in the Sulaimaniyah province towns of Rania and Kifri, and in Halabja and Koysinjaq in the neighbouring Arbil province.
In Koysinjaq, demonstrators set fire to the mayor's office, while in Kifri hundreds stormed the offices of former president Masoud Barzani's KDP after pelting the building with stones, witnesses said. According to local media, a curfew was imposed on the cities of Kifri and Chamchamal.
"You're incapable - incapable of defending the disputed areas and incapable of ruling the Kurdistan region," a demonstrator shouted.
Mr Barzani announced he was stepping down in late October after Kurds voted in favour of independence but the central government in Baghdad retaliated against an extension of Kurdish autonomy.
Legislative and presidential elections in the region due on November 1 were postponed because of the turmoil.
Prime minister Nechirvan Barzani, the ex-president's nephew, has pledged to hold the polls over the next three months.
Updated: December 19, 2017 10:29 PM