Popular protests rock Iraqi Kurdistan

Thousands took to the streets across Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region Dec. 18 to protest budget cuts and the lack of basic services, in what is looking like a popular uprising as street clashes now enter their second day. At least six were killed Dec. 19 in Raniya, Sulaymaniyah province, as security forces fired on protesting civil servants, who have gone without pay for weeks. Demonstrators are demanding the resignation of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) administration. A group of protesters armed with assault rifles attacked the local office of the KRG's ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Raniya, where a curfew has now been imposed. KRG authorities have also taken measures against the press, ordering closed independent Nalia Radio & Television (NRT), and arresting its owner Shaswar Abdulwahid, for allegedly inciting the protests. The KRG has been under a severe financial crunch since Baghdad cut off funding to the region over its unilateral referendum on independence in September. (BasNews, BasNews, BasNews, BasNewsArab News, CNN)

KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani appealed for calm, saying: "These are challenging times for our region. Your frustrations are understandable, and I hear them… But violence is never acceptable. I call on all of you to conduct your protests peacefully." He reminded the public that the Kurdish security forces are facing challenges in a "violent and fragile region," citing recent engagements with remnants ISIS forces. He also invoked the threat of aggression from Baghdad, adding: "Of even more concern is that we are tracking movements by Iraqi forces in Makhmour." Barzani spoke from Germany, where he is meeting with officials to discuss continued military aid to the KRG's armed force, the Peshmerga. (Rudaw, Rudaw)

Photo: Rudaw