Number of people killed in Iraq Kurdish protests rises to 9

Security forces used tear gas and live ammunition against demonstrators whose salaries have been delayed

Men are seen outside the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK) after it was burnt during anti-government protests on the outskirt of Sulaimaniyah, Iraq December 8, 2020. REUTERS/Ako Rasheed

The death toll from protests in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region rose to nine on Thursday, as officials attempted to calm public anger.

Demonstrations began in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah several days ago after public sector salaries were delayed. Protesters set fire to government buildings and political parties' headquarters.

At least one security guard and eight protesters were killed and 56 injured after tear gas, plastic bullets and live ammunition were used by security forces, the Iraqi Human Rights Commission told The National.

"While we affirm the right to peaceful demonstration, we call on all parties to exercise restraint and give priority to the language of reason and dialogue," Ali Al Bayati, a member of the commission said.

He called on both sides to co-operate with each other to avoid the loss of life.

The prime minister of the autonomous Kurdistan Region, Masrour Barzani, condemned the violence and blamed the central government in Baghdad for the delayed payments.

“The right to peaceful protest is vital. But the violence in recent days is unacceptable,” Mr Barzani said during a press conference on Wednesday.

The autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq has had a long standing-dispute with Baghdad over sharing revenue from oil and gas and the coronavirus pandemic has amplified the crisis.

“The federal government in Baghdad owes the KRG budget payments for May, June, July and October. This is not part of the recently passed fiscal legislation,” Mr Barzani said.

He said his government was “exerting all its efforts and capabilities to overcome the difficult financial situations that the region, Iraq and the world are going through."

Baghdad and Erbil will continue negotiating "to obtain the rights and financial dues for the region that it has not sent so far, unfortunately, although the regional government has shown complete flexibility in order to reach an agreement within the framework of the constitution", he said.

The Kurdish region is run by two political parties – the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which controls the Sulaimaniyah area.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq condemned "acts of violence" in the province, saying in a statement on Monday that "the right to peaceful protest must be protected and it is imperative that demonstrations remain peaceful".

President Barham Salih called on authorities to meet the demands of the protesters and to solve the salary crisis.

“Violence is not a solution to confront the legitimate demands of citizens, and these demands made by peaceful protesters must be respected,” Mr Salih said on Tuesday.

Mr Salih, who is originally from Sulaimaniyah, urged security forces to act according to the law and to refrain from using violence while not putting any restraints on the media covering the protests.