Deadly protests erupt in Iraq’s Kirkuk, Prime Minister calls for inquiry
A volatile situation escalated into tragedy on Saturday as one civilian lost their life and 12 others sustained injuries amid protests in Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic city in Iraq.
The victim, a Kurdish man, fell to a fatal gunshot wound, while the injured included a member of the security forces who were struck by bullets, stones, or glass fragments. The unrest prompted authorities to declare a curfew after days of mounting tensions.
Tensions had been brewing for nearly a week in Kirkuk, a historically disputed region between the federal government in Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan region to the north.
The spark that ignited the violence was the allocation of a security forces headquarters to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), resulting in Arab and Turkmen demonstrators staging a sit-in near the site. Kurdish protesters attempted to reach the headquarters on Saturday, leading to clashes and a series of disturbing events.
Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani swiftly called for a commission of inquiry into the incident and pledged that those responsible would be “held accountable.” Al-Sudani also ordered a curfew and “extensive security operations in the areas affected by the riots” while urging all parties to help maintain peace and security in Kirkuk Governorate.
Kirkuk, an oil-rich region in northern Iraq, has seen its share of conflict and shifting control over the years. In 2014, the KDP and the peshmerga took control of the region, only to be expelled by federal troops in 2017 following a contentious referendum on Kurdish independence. Despite this history, the central government has generally maintained positive relations with the Kurdistan region.
However, the recent clashes and the resulting unrest have put significant strain on these relations. Massud Barzani, a prominent Kurdish leader in the autonomous region, condemned the “rioters” for blocking the highway between Kirkuk and Erbil with their sit-in, describing the situation as tense and dangerous. He called on the central government to intervene immediately to restore order.
In this turbulent atmosphere, the people of Kirkuk find themselves caught in the middle, and the international community watches closely, hoping for a peaceful resolution to the longstanding tensions.